My triathlon schedule has been lean this year, as I have been focusing on the next chapter of my athletic pursuits: ultra running. While cycling and swimming have been a nice form of cross training, I have been spending the bulk of my time running. Early this year I targeted my first real Ultra trail run - Where's Waldo 100k in Central Oregon which takes place mid-August. It also serves as the national 100k trail race which features 11,000 feet of climbing (and 11,000 feet downhill).
It has been a different kind of challenge. As an Ironman guy for the past 5 years, I am used to long weekend workouts. I had thought that a 5 hour run and a 1 hour brick run would be similar to a 5 hour run. Wrong!!! I would say about half the challenge is physical but half (and maybe more) is mental. Generally after 2.5 hours of running (when most Ironman runs tend to wind down), that is really the point that the challenge really begins. The body starts to go numb, but the mind starts to really goes to work. Can I run for another 20 miles?, how much should I be eating and drinking?, the temperature is rising, etc. are some of the questions your mind starts thinking about.
My mileage has been steadily building over the past 60 days - I generally run about 4 times a week and average 80-100 miles per week. The mid week two hour run is considered my short run or tempo run. The one that I try to mentally get my hands around is the long Saturday run which begins at 5 am and has been increasing in length by 30 minutes each week. The runs have been on single track, by myself with no Ipod in sight. I am reaching a point where it is simply hard to feel confident that a six hour run is something that I can get through and the follow it with a 2.5 hour run on Sunday. Generally the pace per mile is much slower than on the roads with the purpose is to just to keep my heartrate down.
So while I have not yet completed the race: I have been trying really hard to enjoy the journey. Here are some of my takeaways that might be helpful to some of you considering a longer run at the end of the season:
1. Patience - even if you feel great at hour 3 there is a good chance you are going to feel like crap in an hour. That said, you need to have the mental strength to know that you WILL come out the other side and feel good again.
2. Nutrition is different than Ironman - I tend to drink a bunch more and rely on GUs, but after about 3 hours you need some protein. By the way I have to throw out a special thanks to Holly at GU who has sent me boxes of product to keep going. Last week - I went through 15 GUs on one run.
3. The Zoot running shorts are awesome, but the recovery socks are outstanding. Putting them on right after the long run for just a few hours, enables me to recover incredibly well for the next morning.
4. It is an awesome way to spend some time just thinking about all the things that occured during the week that you never had enough time to focus on. Even on a group ride, you have a chance to chit chat a bit. When you are running by yourself and see more deer than people, you have plenty of quiet time just to explore.
5. The sense of accomplishment is outstanding. You feel like you can conquer anything. How many people can go for a 35 mile run and then head out for dinner and a movie.
So while I still have more training to get done before the race next month, my confidence is building. For anyone who wants to try something more low key (and less expensive), sign up for a 50k race with the goal of just finishing. You will be glad you did.