Friday, August 1, 2014

Ultra-Man


I always start out feeling fat and slow.  My knees sing off key, my head swims, and my brain sputters and stalls at least a couple of times.  After a mile my breathing levels off and my vision clears.  Give me another mile for my knees to give up on harmonizing.  And finally my mind goes to places where it can creatively refuse to looks its problems (namely the friction of terrain and weakness) in the eye.
I’ve resolved to walk the steep climbs.  Don’t think me wussified until you’ve faced down a Red River Gorge trail yourself. On my most recent run I did three “big” climbs.  The first two climbs were similar in overall toughness though the first was distinctly more technical and annoying.*  For each climb I had a comparable descent as well. 
Fat and slow.  Yeah, I am heavier than I’d like to be and that slows me down.  I fret about blowing out a knee, ankle, or some other delicate bone in my lower extremities as I bomb down the steep descents.  I had considered walking the descents as well, to preserve my ability to walk into old age, but eventually threw caution to the dogs and have learned again how to run down these steep technical trails to keep my pace up.
I’ve been experimenting with extreme minimalism.  Instead of carrying food and water on my longer runs I’ve been focusing on storing both within my body.  I’m currently training for my first trail half marathon, and I figure I can enjoy it more without all the trappings of needing to eat and drink.  So far I’m good up to an hour and a half out on the road or trail with no additional calories or liquids.
Of course, ultimately I want to go farther, so I do need to be refining my eating and drinking while afoot.  I’ve been waffling back and forth over whether or not to commit to the 50k version of the Cloudsplitter 100.  I could opt for the mere 25k, but from what I’ve been reading it’s entirely possible to train for and complete a 50k trail run without having incrementally progressed through 5k, 10k, 13.1, and 26.2 miles respectively. 
Currently I’m following a 16 week from half to full marathon training plan targeted to the Cloudsplitter.  I recalibrated to a 16 weeks to 50k plan and found I was woefully behind on the amount of miles I needed to be running according to that specific plan.  Knowing myself I realized that if I could train for a distance close to the target then on race day I should be able to suffer through a few extra miles and finish; finishing being the ultimate goal for my first 31 mile trail run.
The other advice I read suggested that instead of shooting for longer and longer long runs to focus on running your target distance mileage each week (this being especially true for ultra-distance runs).  What that means is if you’re aiming to complete a 50k then during the weeks leading up to the event you should be running about 50k each week.  That I can do.  Based on these new insights I think shooting for anything less than the 50k route would be giving in to my inherent wussitude.  Not acceptable.
So far this week I’ve run 13.3 miles.  I want to run another 12 by the end of the weekend.  Being 9 weeks out I think I’m in good shape.  I need to focus on some speed training as well.
I have two very specific long-term goals (and a third nebulous one): I want to do an unsupported hike/run of the Sheltowee Trace sometime next year in the summer or fall, and I want to attempt the full-monty Cloudsplitter 100.  Yes, 100 miles.  The third pipe dream scheme would be an eventual running of the Leadville 100.  For now I think trying to tackle the Cloudsplitter here in my home state would be an admirable goal. 
I wish I had been serious and decisive about attempting it when I first heard about it.  I’d have had time to train so I could participate this inaugural year.  Instead I’ll settle for next year and time served.
My initial thought on strategy for next year would be to finish the Sheltowee effort six weeks prior to the Cloudsplitter utilizing the long trail as a training tool and then giving myself adequate recovery time afterward.  That would basically mean running the Sheltowee sometime around the middle of August.  That might not be the best time for such a hard effort. 
So that begs the question: how do I train for the Sheltowee attempt?  Not as easy to answer that one.  The effort itself defies most of the good sense advice I’ve read or heard concerning long distance runs.  The Sheltowee is its own best simulator.  It would be hard to replicate the terrain and distances encountered without running the ST itself. 
My initial thought is not to treat it as a run per se but to look at it as a very fast thru-hike.  Minimalism and ultra-efficiency would be key.  Going light and fast would allow me to cover more miles per day while slacking off the pace would hopefully allow me to maintain good health along the trail and afterward.  I never want to completely wreck myself.
It will take some research and dedication to get to the conditioning necessary to do 6-8 days of 40-ish miles on the trail.  I’ve got a little time.

*For both of the first climbs I gained about 335 feet in 0.4 miles.  The third climb was just a tad easier at 315 feet in a half mile.  According to Strava my total climbing for the 7.3 mile run was about 1,500 feet. 

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