Hope for Heaven, Prepare for Hell

This will probably sound ludicrous to any non-running readers, but, for ultrarunners, covering ungodly distances on foot is often a very spiritual and uplifting undertaking; heavenly some might say. On the other hand, most (all?) ultrarunners  can easily summon memories of the hell they experienced during an ultra, maybe even the same ultra in which they experienced heaven. I go into every ultra adventure hoping for heaven, but preparing for hell.

Besides helping me get ready for Run Josh RunI thought this post would be a useful source of information for anyone preparing for a 24-hour ultra run on a fixed, repeated course. Not the training-type of preparing, but the logistical preparation for the day of the race. If you have any suggestions for information that should be included, please use the comment box at the bottom of the post.

Tomorrow at 10:00 am I will step on the track at the Louis S. Madrid Sports Complex and start to run. Twenty-four hours later I will shuffle to a stop; if I can stick to my plan, I will have completed 118 miles. This isn’t a particularly phenomenal distance in the world of ultra-running; according to Wikipedia, top runners regularly go more than 130 miles—the world record is held by Yiannis Kouros from Greece who ran a mind-blowing 188.59 miles in 1997. I can’t even fall back on the excuse that I am an old guy since the record for my 55-59 age group is 141.667 miles.

But, for me, 118 miles is a formidable goal and I have to be prepared to have any hope of reaching it. The first step is being aware of the potential weather conditions. Temperature, wind-speed, precipitation, and humidity can all impact the decisions I make in regard to clothing, footwear, food (and food storage), hydration, and other gear. The forecast for this race is calling for a very windy, partly cloudy 43° at the start. The finish is also supposed to be 43°, but mostly sunny with only a slight breeze. After the start, the temps will climb close to 50° as the winds slowly ease. Those winds will continue to lighten as the temperature drops below freezing Saturday night and stays in the mid-upper 20s for almost 10 hours straight.

The thing is … I won’t really know what the conditions will be until I’m actually in the race. So, if I haven’t prepared for every likely eventuality, then I’m tempting Mother to demonstrate her capricious Nature.

The clothing is probably the easiest for me to deal with. I have a pair of tights that I wear when it is in the 40s or below and a selection of long and short sleeve shirts that will suit the predicted temperatures, and an Under Armour top that will go on top if it gets colder. I’ll pack a pair of shorts in case it gets warmer than expected. I have two different weight gloves that I’ll use tomorrow, since my hands hurt the most when I get cold. I’ll also bring several pieces of head-gear so I can adjust depending on how hard I am working and how cold it is. I’m packing six pairs of socks so that I can swap ’em every four hours and still have an extra pair in case it rains. All the clothing I’ll use has been “Wyoming wind-tested,” so I know it will hold up to the expected high winds early in the event.

Although I’m bringing extra pairs of shoes, I found out at Leadville a couple of years ago that my feet didn’t care for switching up during an event like this. So I’m hoping my Inov8 Roclites last another 100+ miles.

Personal items that are in my “kit” include: chapstick, foot powder, lotion & eye drops (hours & hours of 25 mph winds can be tough on the eyes and skin), a pair of sunglasses (so I won’t need the eye drops), bodyglide, wash cloths, towels, deodorant, and  toothpaste & toothbrush. (Brushing my teeth in the middle of the night will refresh me and the deodorant will make it more likely that the people crewing the race won’t want to run away when I take a break.) I don’t blister as bad as most ultrarunners, but it does happen, so I’ll have a blister-care kit just in case.

For the times I change socks, I’ll have a firm chair that isn’t too comfortable. Believe me, you don’t want to sit in a comfy chair after 18 hours on your feet … you might not be able to get up. I’ll also have a piece of rug for in front of the chair (so my socks stay clean) and a small cooler to prop my foot on to tie the laces. (It doesn’t take long for my back muscles to get tight, so I don’t want to bend too far.) A blanket will be draped over the chair so, if it is windy and cold, I won’t get chilled when I stop.

For this particular event, instead of a tent, I’m planning on using a large tarp spread over the back of my Subaru Outback wagon and firmly staked down. I’m hoping this will make it easier to get in and out, and the back of the car will be warmer and more wind-resistant than any tent. It will also allow me to use the car’s cigarette lighter to power my computer, the chargers for my Garmin & phone, my iPod and speakers, and any other gizmo that I might bring along. The standard emergency stuff like duct tape, flashlight, utility knife, ibuprofen, first-aid kit, etc. will also be in the car.

Probably the toughest part of preparing for a run like this is the food. You’ll find a range of recommendations on the internet for calorie intake going from 200 – 300 calories per hour. For me, it isn’t quite so hard, because I feel as though my stomach can take just about anything. Anything EXCEPT too much caffeine. A caffeine overdose is what sabotaged my Leadville experience. Lesson learned.

So the food items that I plan on having? The important stuff like M&Ms, Cheddar Combos, pizza, Lay’s potato chips are a given. I’ll also have orange slices, grapes, my wife’s homemade banana-butterscotch muffins, rice w/gravy, pretzels, Gu Roctane (pomegranate-blueberry), FRS chews (also pomegranate-blueberry), and a vanilla-flavored protein powder for making shakes. The organizers will have soup and a variety of other foods, of which I will avail myself as needed. Last year, they had homemade Belgian waffles. On a gastronomic scale, I plan on really enjoying this run.

The fluids I plan on using are water, Propel (raspberry-lemonade), and Powerade (fruit punch). I’ll have coolers so that my food & liquids don’t freeze during the long stretch of sub-freezing temps. Because it won’t be getting very warm, I’m not really worried about keeping anything cold.

That’s about it. Running an ultra event is a very individual experience. What works for one person may not work for another. And it is smart to try out all the different gear and food that you might use during a training run. Everything you can do to be prepared in terms of equipment and logistics will go a long way toward getting you to the finish line.

In the end, though, you will still run up against the unexpected when you tackle an ultra. It is the iron determination to overcome every obstacle and get to the finish that is the strongest asset.

Oh, I almost forgot! I am running this event to raise money for a great charity—Engineers Without Borders—and I would love to have your help reaching my fundraising goal. If you’d like to contribute, click here –> Active Giving

2 Comments

Filed under Running

2 responses to “Hope for Heaven, Prepare for Hell

  1. Alec

    Incredibly windy at the track this afternoon. I was telling the race organizers, who plan on running as well, that it may be smart to mix running and walking based on the wind. I told them to give this a try during the serious winds: run when the wind is at your back and side, walk when it is a headwind. Sounds good in theory but may end up changing pace too often. See you tomorrow!

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