Sunday, March 7, 2010

But You Don't Mean All at Once . . . Right?

One of the more frequent comments I hear when discussing the race is, "how many days will it take" or "you don't mean all at once do you?" I sometimes forget how foreign the idea of an ultramarathon is when you first hear about them. To most people, a 26.2 mile marathon is the furthest anyone ever runs and anyone willing to try it is a lunatic.

In truth, there are many races of much greater distance than the marathon and my attempt of one is really quite common place. Any distance over 26.2 miles is considered an ultramarathon. Some of the more common are the 50K (31 miles), 50 mile, 100K (62 miles) and 100 miles. There are a few even more extreme. Like the Badwater 135. 135 miles! It begins at the lowest point in Death Valley and runs to the trail head of the highest mountain in the lower 48. Many runners continue up the trail to the summit making it more like 150 miles. Oh yeah, they hold it in July. Or there is the Leadville 100. It is ran up and down mountain trails in Colorado and every mile is above 9,500' elevation.

Do you run it all at once? Yes, but there are a few misnomers within the words run or race. The vast majority of people do not run the whole thing. For most there is much walking and occasionally, although not recommended, sitting down for a while. There are many strategies used like run 5 minutes walk 1 or walk the uphills and run the flats and downhills. I have tried many of them and don't have one I prefer most.

Also, the only race will be between me and the clock. I've never been a fast runner and harbor no dreams of winning anything. My goal, and most of the other runner's goal, will simply be to finish within the 32 hour cutoff. Many who start a race will not finish. There were 126 starters of the race I'm doing last year and only 56 finished. The winner of this race last year finished in 18:38. The world record for 100 miles is 12:27! This is an 8 minute per mile pace. I can barely manage that in a 3 mile race much less 12 hours straight.

Races will have aid stations every 5 to 10 miles. These are places to replenish supplies and get help if needed. All stations offer a place to refill water bottles and many have food and other comfort items commonly requested. Aid stations range from a 5 gallon jug of water sitting on the trail to a tent full of people ready to help with any request. It's not uncommon to see Coke and potato chips. The more luxurious the station however, the more difficult to leave and get back on the trail. Some of the stations will be accessible by family members
or crews that you bring to help support you.

All but the most famous ultras are fairly small events. Usually only 100 or so people. It's not uncommon in the later stages of the race to go an hour or more without seeing another soul. I love this! To me, there is absolutely nothing appealing about running something like the Chicago or New York Marathon where you are shoulder to shoulder with some 45,000 complete strangers.

Training went well again this past week. 80 miles on the bike and 26 miles on foot. 13 miles was done this weekend on rocky hilly trails. I am still amazed by the five fingers! They handled the sharp rocky terrain of Busiek and were able to shed water and mud from the water crossings quickly. I could however tell that the muscles within my foot are still developing. Climbing a steep hill really flexes the foot!

I'll talk more sometime about Busiek which I think is the ultimate trail running playground in our area. Here is a picture of one of the trails below.

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