by: Mark Modisette
I’m sharing my experience with my first ultra marathon (two weeks post race) and I hope that this report is useful to some of you and perhaps amusing to others. In a way it’s amusing just the fact that I am writing a race report for a race I did not finish… so why should you read on and waste your time on a story that resulted in failure? I feel that each experience should result in something learned – whether we succeed or fail. Reaching your goals is awesome for obvious reasons and I guess we grow and learn when we succeed, but failure is a true teacher.
Henry Ford said, “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently”.
Race planning and preparation
Which Ultra. It was just after the holidays and I was thinking of a new challenge. I had run the Rescue Run and the Winter Series race II and I was feeling that my efforts were pretty good considering the fact that I wasn’t really training for anything. So I needed a race – something that would keep me focused and set me up for the summer’s running events (PPA, Epic Relay, possibly ADT Marathon). I had been talking about doing an Ultra Marathon (race that is any distance over 26.2). I was reading about how to select your first Ultra and the advice was similar, pick something close to home and a distance that seems achievable. The closest Ultra was the upcoming Greenland 50K so I signed up for the May 5th event.
Training Plan. My next task was to find a training plan that would suit my lifestyle and prepare me for the race in a relatively short period of time. I googled “50K Ultra training plans” and I came across a running club site that offered a plan that gave me Mondays and Fridays off. I had the plan vetted by my friend (a seasoned coach that works with all kinds of athletes including endurance athletes). He gave his seal of approval for the plan with some advice – do all my long runs on trails since the distance increase was beyond the recommended 10% and the road can pound a body and promote injury.
My base mileage was at a pretty modest 20 miles per week at the time and I stuck pretty close to the recommended plan with the exception of missing a 20 miler in the middle because I was on vacation in Seattle. I had planned to run but the rain and food and change in routine caught up with me and I got lazy. When I returned from vacation I got right back at it. I had 3 consecutive weeks of 22 and 24 milers, which gave me the opportunity to figure out my fueling and nutrition and check out my equipment. I stayed injury free for the duration of my training.
Counting eggs before they hatch. I was already setting goals for myself weeks before race day. I analyzed and analyzed the previous year results and weather conditions. I talked to coaches and trainers.. The nutrition planning was the thing I put the most thought into. I struggled on my 22 mile training runs with feeling light headed and sick after. I took the advice of my support system and started increasing my calories during my final long training run, a 24 miler. The result was I felt great! I had 2 Roctane GU’s for the end of the first and second round, 70 oz’s of Gatorade in my water pack, some wafer cookies, 2 X Hammer Endurolytes every 8 miles, 2 X FRS chews every 8 miles or so, a 20 oz bottle of electrolyte enriched water to take a break from the fruity flavors. I had it all figured out… so why did I decide to change my nutrition plan at the last minute? Why did I miss my frequency of Endurolytes? More on this later.
Chafing sucks! I had chafing issues during this training regimen that would bring the toughest guys to their knees. I had chafing in areas that I’d rather not mention and unfortunately – it is something that each of us has to learn on your own. I will tell you what worked for me:
-Underwear – I switched from Nike Pro to Under Armor. I have done most of my running in Nike Pro’s but during some long runs things tend to move around. Under Armor proved to be more comfortable in the long run.
-Glide – I put glide on everything in the underwear region. I also did this on my feet. All my toes tend to blister and toenails turn purple. Glide is a very good thing.
-Socks – another tough area to master. I tried many socks. I tried the PowerSox, which I thought was the answer to all my foot related issues. All my research on blisters on the feet said that friction reduction and wicking sweat from the feet was the key. Some advice was powder and other said use petroleum jelly-I tried it all. As I said, I thought PowerSox where the key, they fit really well, had the right amount of thickness and were 70% Polyester, 23% Acrylic, 5% Nylon, 2% Spandex. The issue was on a long run they wore blisters on the top of my feet near the ankle from where my laces pulled the tongue of the shoe in. I went back to the drawing board. While shopping in the best REI (or any store for that matter) in the world in Seattle – a golden light was shining down on something in the sock section and I heard… “Dad I’m hungry” (not angels) in a frantic dash to purchase something and get food in one of my bottomless pits I grabbed the socks and headed for the checkout counter. My sock pick is Thorlos Experia Coolmax (with a exorbitant amount of Glide on the toes) – thick but not too thick and fit snug around the arch.
Race Day – 2 classic mistakes and 1 not so classic
I woke up at 4:30am for a 7:00am start. As family and close friends will tell you, I am a bit fastidious about race morning preparations. I always make a list that is broken up by what to eat for breakfast, all the accessories I need to remember (like GPS, bandana, music, etc.) and for this race, I made a nutrition list. So a few weeks before the race, I heard from a friend that Accelerade was something I should try. So I did my research and found that people were raving about the positive results they saw from using Accelerade. The reviews say things like “extends endurance 29%,” “reduces muscle damage 83%, “rehydrates 40% better than water”. I bought some the week previous to the race and tried it on a 10-mile training run.
Classic Mistake #1 – never change your plan at the last minute.
I filled 4 bottles with Accelerade and placed 2 scoops in each 20oz bottle (too much in retrospect). My plan was to grab a new icy cold bottle after each 8 mile loop. I also packed a 20oz bottle of electrolyte-enhanced water and a Mix1. I had cookies, Endurolyte caps, Sports Legs caps, FRS chews, cough drops (keeps the palate wet), and 6 GU’s of varying flavors in case getting them down was a problem so I had choices. I packed all that in my Camelbak waist belt ensuring that as I packed it I would have the smaller things in easy to reach places.
I left the house and got to the race site about 1 hour before the race. I got my race packet, attached my bib and timing chip and stowed my race shirt in the car. Now I need to figure out where to put my support gear. I walked up and put my gear in a very well placed spot near the turn around on the return side so I could run across the timing pad, turn around and run over to my stuff.
The race started on time and it was great to see some friendly faces. The field was small and after the race started there was no crowding or uncomfortable bottleneck. The trail is well-traveled and single track in places. There are no rocks or roots to trip you up on this course but there is the occasional rodent hole and dips to keep you sharp. The other runners were friendly (although not quite like the Pike’s Peak Ascent where everyone is saying “good job” every time they are passed or passing). This didn’t stop me from encouraging others and trying to speak to others even when things went bad for me. That said, when things went bad, people were stopping to check on me and even offering me some of their cherished supply of GU’s or whatever.
I started the race and felt great. My plan was to keep my heart rate in check for the first 8-mile lap. This did not happen and my heart rate seemed to climb immediately – in retrospect, it was a hot day and I did not account for the heat as I set out after my goal. I dismissed my heart rate and pace and pressed on at what felt comfortable. I finished the first loop at 1:09 with a average pace of 8:57mm. – 6 mins faster on my estimated loop time and 43 seconds faster on pace. I went out too fast.
Classic Mistake #2: don’t go out too fast.
Everything I read and all my friends told me not to go out too fast. I was even encouraged to go slow the first loop. Considering the fact that the day was hot, a blistering 85 degrees with relentless sun by the mid point of the race, I should have started even slower than planned… all my training was done at much cooler temps.
All I could think as I cruised in and saw my lap time was “holy sh**, I’m gonna crush my predicted time”. After the first loop I had finished the Accelerade bottle, grabbed the water bottle, ate 2 FRS’s and took off with a minimal time spent in the gate. I forgot to take my Endurolytes until I was about 5 miles into my second lap. I was low on water and remember thinking how good the plain cold water was. I got into the gate at 1:14 for a second lap time at a 9:52 pace. Again, it was a smooth transition as I grabbed a Accelerade bottle and headed out for my 3rd lap.
I was feeling the fatigue and the hills at mile 17 – 18, 19 started getting harder then light-headedness and nausea set in. The walk to the turn-around was hard for several reasons, I knew Sonal and Andrew (my son) would be there and likely worried that I hadn’t come through, I felt like crap, I was a little embarrassed that I bonked so hard so fast. I rolled in at 4:23 after 3 loops, 23 miles… but I was done. Sonal greeted me with cold water and Gatorade and I guzzled the water. We sat for 30 minutes and Sonal, knowing that I’d feel bad later, tried to encourage me to finish, offering to run the last loop with me, but I was done.
Not so Classic Mistake: for Ultras it’s ok to spend some time in the aid station to rest, hydrate and re-fuel – I spent as little time as possible in the gate and at aid stations.
A huge thanks go to my family for their support – I could not have been able to train and get stronger without their encouragement and love.
So like I said, the DNF was a pretty big disappointment but I learned some valuable lessons to take into the summer running season and for my next attempt at tackling a marathon or ultra distance.