The Training Plan
I found a 50 mile training plan online and printed it out. The idea was to use the plan as a guide for recommended mileage and not to be obsessed with sticking to the daily/weekly workouts. In fact the plan was from the Santa Clarita Runners Club in Southern California. With the early stages of my training being during one of the worst winters we've seen in the Northeast it was pretty easy to see that a Southern California training plan was not going to be 100% compatible with a Spring Ultra in the Northeast.
I continued to use it as a guide and tracked rest days and back to back long runs against it but I didn't do anywhere near the number of miles that the plan recommended. You also have to remember, the terrain is going to have a big impact on the number of miles you run. For all I knew, the Santa Clarita plan may not have even been designed for a trail ultra. Either way, I made sure I was (somewhat) consistent and that I spent a lot of time on my feet.
In the early weeks of the training, the trails were deep in snow so I did a lot of long road runs on the road and before that was possible I ran for time (not miles) on the treadmill.
Scouting the CourseFor several weeks prior to the event I spent time scouting different portions of the beautiful course in The Mohonk Preserve. I realize this wont always be an option but it was part of the reason why I selected Rock the Ridge 50 Mile Challenge as my first 50 miler. Within a 40 minute drive, I would get up early on a weekend morning and drive to the trail-head. Over the course of 5 or 6 trips I managed to run most of the course in various segments, familiarizing myself with the terrain and most importantly gaining an understanding of where the big hills were. In my training runs I would build my strength by running the hills with a plan that on race day I would be walking them. The trail-head I used was at the start of the course and featured a 3 mile climb to the top of the ridge. In training I would "settle in" and run the hill knowing that on race day I would walk this bad-boy. I didn't want the excitement of race day to inspire me to attempt to run it (like a real man) with 47 miles still to go. There were several other formidable hills and I knew where they were and more importantly, I knew where they were not. On the final 12 mile stretch, I knew the path and what was in store for me as I wound my way along the ridge-line, slowly descending and working my way to the finish. This lifted my spirits as I was able to gauge how I felt and how hard I could push myself in the final miles.
EquipmentDuring every training run I wore my Ultimate Direction Scott Jurek Hydration Vest. At one time I debated whether to wear a vest or a single-bottle belt but I reviewed the course description and saw that some of the aid stations were a little far from each other, particularly late in the course, so I went with my gut and wore the vest that carried two bottles, my camera and enough bars and gels to get me through.
One of the stranger and more risky moves was a last minute change in shoes. I had been complaining about tired feet and an occasional blackened toe nail, so after a 20 mile run I was wondering how I would be after another 30 miles. So I decided I was going to try something different. I had always been told not to go changing things just before a big race, but I threw that advice out the window and the weekend before the event, but I decided I would trade in my traditional trail shoes and join the Fat Shoe Revolution. I went to the official equipment outfitter Rock and Snow and tried on a pair of Hoka One One Stinson Trails. I even went so far as to go a 1/2 size larger. I consulted some friends and online communities, I did one 4 mile training run (on the road) and I was sure I was going to wear them.
There was an aid station that we would pass two times (miles 24 and 38) that we could visit our drop bags. In my drop bag I had extra shirts, socks, cold drinks, bandages, a hat, visor, sunblock a couple of pairs of alternative shoe choices and a single-bottle belt. I stuck with what was working but I did stop to change my socks at mile 38. I've read how this is like a gift from heaven late in a ultra so I figured I would give it a try even though I couldn't say that I had any real need to do so.
I've been wearing Injinji toes socks which have been working out real well for me so I had a spare pair in my bag as well as a couple of other pairs of traditional socks. I struggled to sit on a rock and pull the toe-socks onto my feet. I probably could have saved 8 to 10 minutes if I chose the traditional socks as it was difficult to master the art of mashing my toes into the individual holding cells after running 38 miles. But I got them on and it felt good.
All through my training I used Vega Sport products. Being vegan, their products are plant-based endurance products designed specifically to help performance. I found the Energizer to be a great pre-workout drink and their Hydrator and gels as my choice for nutrition during my runs. I would also mix in some of their energy bars for real food on some longer training runs. The only other nutritional product that I used was Cliff Blocks and/or Honey Stinger Chews. I found these to be great for late run nutrition when it's harder to swallow real food.
My weekend long runs were largely run on a very light breakfast. My plan was to train (into) a slight nutritional deficit so when race day came and I was properly fueled I would feel far better than I did in training.
Additionally, on race day I stuck to what my body knows. I carried my own hydrator powder packets and filled my bottles with water and mixed my own fluids deliberately staying away from the highly-sugared Gatorade that was available on the course. My plan was to avoid the sugar highs and more importantly the sugar crash. I wanted to stay as far away from the emotional lows or "bad patches" that I've read so much about.
I sipped from my bottles frequently, and ate my gels a regular time intervals, when I hit an aid station I would munch down a peanut butter finger sandwich, and later when it was harder to swallow the dry sandwich the blocks and chews were my lifesaver. They seemed to work in magical ways. And oddly enough, I'm not repulsed by the thought of eating them again, which has often happened with gels or GUs after other events.
There are so many things in our lives that we are responsible for that we often rush through training runs thinking of all the things we need to do over the course of the day or the weekend. We get in the car and rush back to family, work or weekend chores. As the big day approached I repeated to myself "This IS What You Are Doing Today". This helped me to relax and have fun and enjoy everything that went into it and the experience that is forever.
Having a great support crew will make everything better and more enjoyable. In this case my support didn't have any pacing or other responsibilities but was solely there for emotional support. My wife Janine, was a trooper on my longest of days. She drove me to the event and rode with me on a shuttle-bus to the start and helped me stay calm as the start grew near. I saw her at the first aid station at mile 10 and again at the aid stations at miles 24 and 32. And of course she was there at the finish. I could see her as she cheered me on through my final 100 yards. It put a smile on my face to know she was there to share this great achievement with me.