I've heard horror stories and crazy superlatives related to post-Ultra recovery: trashed, miserable, elephant legs, weeks to recover, enlarged testicles, etc. Or is that post-vasectomy recovery? I don't know. Either way, I wasn't looking forward to the aftermath.
It turns out though, none of that misery actually occurred. As I sit here typing this, I honestly feel wonderful and if I had a sudden bout of amnesia, wouldn't be able to tell that I had anything other than a normal training week. I suppose that tells me I did, or am doing, something correct.
It's with that in mind that I break a few things down to solidify for those that might care, what worked and what didn't.
Since, March 2011, when I decided to make a run at the North Face 50 miler, I have averaged somewhere between 30-40 miles per week (with one day of speed work of some kind in there). I ran the San Francisco Marathon at the end of July in a so-so-for-me time of 3:55. Since that time I've averaged about 38 miles per week according to my "Criminal Justice Major Gorilla Math".
Week 31 is the week of the SF Marathon and 45 is the week of the 50k.
I'm sure it's an irritant to some that would like to see it, but I don't really have a "training calendar / plan". They sort of drive me nuts. My schedule and temperament never quite mesh and so some time ago, I decided to dump the plan-method and go with the principle-method. To wit, I keep the following in mind.
- I'm training for an Ultra, my family isn't
- Long run every week or ten days
- One day of speed or hills
- Fast is fast and slow is slow. Don't push it unless you are trying to push it; LSD's aren't the time for pushing and intervals aren't the time to chill
- Don't be afraid to speed up or down or modify the day entirely if you're body is speaking to you, but stay consistent. Which is to say if you have speed planned, and your calves hurt, just make it a longish slow day instead but don't try and push the pace, a half-assed effort doesn't really help
So a typical week looked like this, keeping in mind the LSD run gets adjusted upward or downward based on how close I am to the race:
Sunday: LSD Run, 20 Miles
Monday: Rest (Nowadays, Hockey Game)
Tuesday: Run to the Stadium Steps, One lap rest, one lap staircases, 6-9 miles
Wednesday: Easy Run, 5-7 miles
Friday: Longish Slow or Tempo, depending on feel, 10 miles
Saturday: Rest, Stretch, Hydrate for Sunday
I've found this to be something I can do very consistently, which is what I wanted. I'm sure some would say that this isn't enough but here I am, five days removed from 33 miles and feeling awesome. I'm also not injured. So this works for me. It's also worth pointing out that I have started playing hockey again, and I think that cross-training has really helped me out. Specifically, my back, hip flexors and fast twitch leg muscles feel much stronger. Some of those really low mileage weeks you see up there were a result of multiple days of hockey, not just rest days.
I've mentioned it before, but the point of running this 50k was to simulate the North Face Endurance Challenge Championship 50 miler. I wanted a sense of the elevation gain, dial in my nutritional requirements and just generally get some nerves out before I went out and made a fool out of myself in front of nearly all of the world's best ultra-marathoners.
The Elevation gain for the TNF 50 looks like this:
They have modified the course a bit, since March, but it still looks painful. Allegedly there aren't many switchbacks either. Sweet.
The Almaden Trails 50k looks like this:
For some reason my Garmin dumped the first 15 miles of elevation data, but as you can see from the full embed below, the course basically looped itself, so it's not unreasonable to just double the elevation numbers, which are here:
So, in short, it looks like the total elevation gain was about 7,800 ft which isn't a bad replication of the TNF 50 course, at least by my reckoning. I won't bore you with the details, but if you take a look at the split data, when I COULD run, I was moving pretty well. I'm especially proud of the ass I was hauling during parts of Miles 31-33.
Tactics and what I learned
Nutrition, PRE-RACE: The week of the race I was pretty health conscious, leaving the beer aside and sticking with a steady supply of carbs and veggies, but without forsaking meat. I've come to really love Kale and Bok Choy and I suggest you do too. (I've got a rock solid japanese noodle recipe that I'll detail later) I added just a little salt to everything I ate for two days prior. Morning of I had a PB&Honey, a triple mocha at starbucks and a gatorade pre-fuel thing.
Nutrition, During the Race: I knew that there would be well stocked aid-stations but I wanted enough of my own stuff just in case. I took the following:
- Six Hammer Gels, including Apple Cinnamon, my new favorite flavor that tastes like Apple Pie
- Three stinger waffles by Honey Stinger, another favorite, total experiment, but this thing was AMAZINGLY GOOD
- Camelback Elixr Tabs
I had one gel every 40 minutes like it was a religion and at each aid-station (located every 5k by law <---Good Rule!) at a huge handful of pretzels and a decent sized cup of G2, the calorie-less gatorade.
I carried my Nathan vest, not because I really needed that much water, but because I hate carrying hand-helds and am growing less fond of the waist pack. The vest is just plain comfy.
Overall, I felt like I nailed it. No nausea whatsoever, no pooping, and most importantly, no bonking whatsoever. I honestly felt better during this than during my SF Marathon experience.
Nutritional Mantra: Don't get behind and eat it (whatever IT for you is) even if you don't want it or feel hungry.
Pacing: I would recommend chucking your time goal out the window. Terrain will dictate so much of this that is isn't worth worrying about. I figured that out after the half-way mark.
My goal was to "run to comfort" and see what that pace looks like. Given the elevation gain and how I felt most of the time, I'm happy with 11:51 per mile. For the future, I know that I can push that a bit and still feel good but I would imagine anything more than a "25% over comfortable" output might force me to blade-run a little bit and possibly bonk.
Pacing Mantra: If you can't see the top of the hill, walk it. There will be plenty of opportunity to run.
Gear: Like I said, the Nathan Vest worked great and that is a mandatory piece of trail gear for me now. It might just be the Army in me, but having everything on my chest and my hands free really gives me a mental boost. It also prevented any chaffing around my waist that might have come from a waist pack.
The New Balance MT101s worked great. It's an awesome shoe and even when I got soaked at mile 22, I had no issues at all.
My cheapo running shorts are money. A little vaseline here and there and I was good to go.
The Buff. What can I say, the greatest sweat solution anywhere.
Socks. I don't care what kind of socks I have on. I think these were Golden Toes or something. Eh. Expensive socks are stupid.
CEP compression leg sleeves. These things are money for recovery. I wore them all day and all night, and my legs felt fantastic the next day. I don't like wearing them during the run anymore, but they are key to my recovery.
Gear Mantra: Test everything out and once you do, leave it alone.
So there you have it. Most of the gory details and all of the ones I felt were important.
Just so it's said, I am not any kind of an expert so common sense discretion applies for any of the above suggestions. This is simply an illustration of how one dude did things. Your mileage may vary.
I'm also not responsible for your wife's anger because after the race your running gear smells like microwaved cat food. That's totally your problem.