What have I got myself into?

My friend, Jim Sloan, gave me a book for my birthday: Running through the wall — Personal Encounters with the Ultramarathon.

  • blisters the size of silver dollars
  • torrential downpour
  • blizzard
  • we didn’t have to worry about the copperheads, rattlesnakes and water moccasins. They would all be hibernating. … the alligators should be dormant
  • hallucinations
  • my knee!
  • hypothermia
  • like most trail runs you might miss these markers and get some “extra running”.
  • dehydration
  • … my second sunrise on this run. Most ultrarunners dread dawn — the hours between 4am and 6am

Well I’m planning on running only 50 miles, so a second sunrise seems unlikely (unless I really screw up — even a walking pace covers 50 miles in less than 24 hours).

I’ve been worried about nutrition (the wall), and that hardly gets mentioned.

The human body can run hard for about 20 miles, and then it runs out of easily used fuel. You can play tricks with the body and make it store a bit more fuel by depletion and carboloading — thus one can (with luck) finish a hard marathon without hitting the wall. But you can’t carboload enough for 50 miles. You’ve got to eat significantly on the course (more than just gel packs).

Naifly I had assumed this was going to be the major difference between an ultra and a marathon. In anything under a marathon the wall is irrelevant. The marathon is right on the edge, where you must worry about the wall but can (with luck) avoid it. You can’t avoid it in a real ultra. I assume there is no point to carbo-loading.

One thing that has worried me is that on my 200mile bike rides my stomach tended to rebel after about 10 hours, and I couldn’t eat real food beyond that (only gel packs, which become nasty after a while). Well, I should complete 50 miles in under 10 hours. But it’s harder to digest when running than when biking. Perhaps the limit will come earlier when running?

I guess I haven’t really done a run that truly pushed my endurance. I’ve only hit the wall once in a race. But the two 200mile bike rides I did were certainly endurance races. I need to think in terms of them.

Race Length elevation Time
gain loss max
Pier to Peak 13.1 4000ft ~50ft 3900 1:47
Catalina 26.2 4000ft 4000ft ~3000ft 3:22
Cal International 26.2 ? 200ft 300ft 3:07
half Nine Trails 17 ???? ??? ~3000ft 3:37

Malibu Grand Tour 206 6000 6000 ~2000 bike 12:59
Solvang Autumn 202 11000 11000 ~2000 bike 15:07

White River 50 8700 8700 ~6900 ???

What about elevation. I’ve never run at altitude. At the top of Pier to Peak (roughly 4000ft) altitude doesn’t seem a problem. But when I visited La Paz Bolivia (roughly 10,000ft) simply climbing stairs was a challenge. What will ~7000ft be like? Dianna suggested that I visit Lake Tahoe beforehand to acclimate.

Weather. Is always chancy. Still high summer is the dry season. On the other hand perhaps it gets hot? The website doesn’t provide standard temperatures.

Ah, but Dave Webster points me at a link. Highs in the mid-60, lows in the mid-40s. That, at least, doesn’t seem a problem.

But there is always my body. Will it break?

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One Response to “What have I got myself into?”

  1. Dave Webster Says:

    You’ve probably heard all the good advice I’ve heard… and I don’t have any first hand experience… but I was talking to a friend about this very topic a few weeks ago. He’s 60 years old and not much slower than I am. He’s been doing 50Ks for years while his wife has been doing 50-milers. This year he’s going to join her for a 50-miler. When I asked him how he’s training for the longer distance, he said he’s learning to run slower. The slower pace reduces his rate of carb-burn and also allows some blood to go toward intestinal functions – giving him a chance of digesting some food.

    He’s training long and slow to accommodate his digestive tract and to condition his system to rely more on fat. It makes sense to me, but I’ll bet you want to go long AND fast!

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