A spring ultra? Suuurrre. Apparently my brain was not registering when I read the following course description back in early December at registration time:
“The course is mostly single track trail with a mix of open fields, dirt road and some paved road. The course features nearly 9,800 feet of climbing. There is a starting loop of 3.6 miles followed by two identical loops of 13.7 miles. There are 4 stream crossings that can be challenging depending on the water level – there is always the chance of getting wet feet.”
This all occurred, of course, just a few days after the JFK 50 Ultra experience; perhaps ultra runner’s euphoria was still in place. I particularly like the use of the phrase ‘the course features …’ when describing the terrain. OK, so now I know what 9600 feet of climbing, and 9600 feet of descending feels like over 31 miles. Here is a summary of my experience at this great event.
Two bananas dusted with cinnamon about two hours before the start. The cinnamon helps to slow down the digestion/absorption of the high sugar content fruit. Otherwise my blood sugar tends to get out of balance.
About 35 degrees at the start; about 50 degrees later in the day. Partly sunny with very little wind on some of the connecting meadows. The course was relatively dry with a few muddy spots. The streams were not running high and all the crossings could be made without getting wet.
Primarily go out slow(er), set in a good mental focus, and then stay focused on the two keys of Floating and Flowing. At the same time, enjoy it … the day, the park, the event, the people, the experience.
I did not really have a time goal since I did not have a good idea of what the course would be like. I also did not really train for this event. My longest run since the new year was 17 miles. My biggest week since the new year was 37 miles. My approach was to train on technique, so I did a lot of hilly trail runs; but none of the home trails remotely compared to the terrain on this course.
Uphill: The ‘Float’ focus worked perfectly. It kept me tall and kept the pressure off of my glutes. One of my tendencies is to tense up my back and glutes when on a uphill. At the same time, the ‘Flow’ focus enhanced keeping my back, hips, legs relaxed.
Uphill Steep: Many of the hills you (meaning I) really could not run. Walking was the most efficient approach; so I had a lot of ChiWalking® practice. In some cases, I needed to use the sidehill technique to keep my ankles down and feet flat.
Downhill: The ‘Flow’ focus also worked perfectly on the downhills. It again kept me very relaxed in the back, hips and legs; and reduced impact. At the same time, the ‘Float’ focus here kept me tall while leaning less and I felt very light on my feet.
Downhill Steep: In retrospect, this was my biggest challenge. In my last ultra, I took a lot of pounding in my quads because I lost focus and tensed up on the steep downhills. Today’s post event body senses suggest I still have some technique work to do here. The quads are just a little tight which means I was using them to ‘brake’. I do remember tensing a bit to try and control my speed when I should have been thinking light (‘up’) on my feet with a quicker short turnover.
Flats (although not much of this on the course): I played with the concept of balancing Floating and Flowing on the flats. Often it was effortless, particularly in the last 1/2 mile. I came out of the woods and could see the finish. For most of the day I kept saying to myself ‘float and flow, less, less, less’.
My favorite three words in the whole ChiRunning® book are ‘Less is more’ in the introduction on page 4 (read the introduction free here) and again on page 28. This concept keeps popping up in my running and in my life. When I try too hard, I get out of alignment, overextended and I tense up. When I just focus on alignment and relaxation, everything falls into place.
At about mile 22, my right mid-back (kidney area) started to cramp a bit which is a tendency due to an old injury. I took in some extra water and stopped and did a Spine Roll Body Loosener. This helps to extend the spine and release some tension. This helped my back quite a bit and I was lucky to be at the top of a long gradual downhill. I focused on flowing down this hill and allowing the pelvis to rotate more which provided a massage to my mid/lower back. This really loosened up the back and release any remaining tension.
At about mile 24 my left knee suddenly starting aching; like a dull ache, not really pain in any one spot. At the same time I got a tingling feeling in the toes of my left foot. I wondered what could be causing this and again decided to stop and do a few Body Looseners. After Ankle Rolls, Knee Circles, and Hip Circles the ache and tingling faded away and I was off again.
Food on the Course:
First mini-lap (3.6 mi.): No aid stations and no food for me at the loop (start/end) point. Just a water refill and a ditching of my long pants.
First loop (13.7 mi.): Two aid stations, boiled potatoes* with salt and a half banana at each. Another add station at the loop (start/end) point. I took a 3-4 minute pause here for a restroom break and a half banana.
Second loop (13.7 mi.): Same two aid stations, again boiled potatoes* with salt and a half banana at each. Later, I also dipped into my backup stash (box of raisins) at about mile 30. This was a great boost for the final approach to the finish.
The best part was that I did not eat anything I usually avoid; which was a good indication I was thinking straight and was not looking for ‘comfort’. I also did not use any electrolytes (Succeed! Caps), although I was comfortably warm and lost a lot of fluids. I think this was due to some key diet changes recently and my electrolyte batteries were fully charged. I set my countdown timer to 12 minutes and took a mouthful of water everytime it went off. I carried my water in a diagonal water belt.
[*Danny Dreyer, creator/author of ChiRunning®, has on numerous occasions talked about the physical and mental transformations that occur on an ultra from boiled potatoes dipped in salt. Now I know first hand how well these work for quick energy.]
– Hills are an ideal place to test your technique and your ability to make adjustments quickly; sometimes automatically as the body senses effort.
– “It was a great running lesson”. I had almost 6 hours of continuous practice on some very challenging terrain; my brain was operating at close to its current max capacity. I am wondering what it will be like to now run having to think ‘less’ having stretched my brain and body/muscle memory to a new level.
– “Float” and “Flow” with varying levels of each depending on the terrain can simplify your focus to the key elements; and enhance your experience and performance. Danny Dreyer’s original article on these concepts is located here.
This is great event put on by some great people. Everything, everything was first rate. Hats off to everyone involved. I can see why such a challenging event sells out quickly every year.
Oh, almost forgot … the numbers for those who need to know:
– First mini-loop: 33:51/3.6 miles, Second loop: 2:27:48/13.7 miles, Third loop: 2:53:25/13.7 including a 4:11 pause. Overall 5:55:02.
– 122 out of 385. 38th out of 93 AG.
Brief post event update 3/31/09: Ran again Wednesday 3/25 after the race about 5 miles flat sub-8s, then again Friday 3/27 about 11 miles hills easy. Feel great with little to no recovery. Today another 11 miles mostly flat trails … wondering what could be next for me.
My theory about having stretched my brain was correct. Running in the effortless zone seems to have taken on a new level.
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David Stretanski is a holistic health, fitness and wellness coach and Certified ChiRunning®/ChiWalking® Instructor. For more information on David, please see his About, Contact page or his website at http://www.eChiFitness.com.
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