Ultrarunning is a new world for me, but it’s one that’s intrigued me for a few years. I’ve jumped into a trail marathon in the past, and last summer, my husband and I tackled an Ironman together. But going a longer-than-marathon distance on gnarly up-and-down trails hasn’t happened yet. That’s about to change because I just registered for the Under Armour Mountain Running Series in Killington, Vermont. On August 25, I’ll be running around the ski hill for a full 50 kilometers. I am both thrilled and terrified — and with roughly two months to train, I’ve made some major changes.
ASSESSING THE RACE
First step: Know exactly what you’re getting into. It’s easy to find course maps and elevation profiles on the site, so I spent some time checking it out. And I’m glad I did, because holy climbing mountains, Batman! There are more than 3,000 meters of climbing over 50 kilometers, and a lot of ups and downs versus a couple brutal climbs. That meant mileage wasn’t the only thing I needed to focus on.
That was the first place to start, though, of course. In the past, I’ve made the mistake of too much, too soon with increases in mileage, so I started with a slow build up back in April, steadily increasing my weekly miles running and walking. I know the best way to go longer for me is to add walking before and after runs and very slowly creep higher mileage into the equation. Weeks are varied as my schedule still includes racing bikes and fun adventures like long hikes, so I’m taking long runs when I can. To test that I could handle the mileage, rather than running 30 miles at this point in training, I did a 30-mile hike with a full pack. It took 13 hours, but didn’t beat up my body or feet as much as a run would have!
There will be aid stations, but photos from the race last year show the 50K leaders all wore hydration packs and vests. I’m going to opt for a vest with a higher-calorie drink mix than I would use in a shorter race … but that’s only a small percentage of the nutrition dialing that I’m talking about here. I’ve typically aimed for around an 80:20 ratio of clean, healthy foods to more indulgent options. Now, I’m trying to shift to more of a 90:10 ratio with more veggies, more clean proteins and fewer donuts on a regular basis.
ASSESSING LAST YEAR’S COMPETITION
If I’ve learned one thing from years of bike racing and triathlon, it’s that a race report is worth 1,000 words … literally. While I’m not a fan of writing them anymore, I do know that when I’m tackling races that are unfamiliar to me, I want the intel from runners who’ve been there, done that. So, I started stalking last year’s results. Amy Rusiecki won last year’s edition of the race, and luckily, she wrote a whole blog post on the topic, so I started reading it to get some intel on what was going through her head for the almost-six-hours she was out on the course. Behind her, Sarah Keyes finished on the podium, and she was featured on the UltraRunner Podcast, so I quickly downloaded that to get a sense of her running style. While I don’t necessarily think I’ll be racing against them in the race, it’s great to get a sense of how the race played out and what was happening at the front of the pack.
Thinking back to past endurance runs, I know clothing is going to be an issue: loose or sleeveless shirts often leave me chafed at the end of a marathon, while shorts tend to do the same for runs more than three hours. But at the same time, August in Vermont isn’t going to be great for leggings and long sleeves, so there’s a balancing act to consider. At the moment, the winning pieces I’m contemplating are these Under Armour Fly-By short shorts with a bit of Body Glide on my upper thighs to stay cool, and a white (for heat and light-reflection) UA Sunblock UPF 50+ long-sleeve top. It’s the best of both worlds as far as chafing and sun protection go, and you can bet I’ll be wearing this combo a lot for the next two months to make sure it’s going to hold up.
HITTING THE GYM
Since looking at the course profile and the hills I’ll be contending with, step-ups have become my best friend and my mortal enemy. Because I’m a huge fan of strength training to go alongside my running regimen, it wasn’t hard to keep my gym streak going. But it did mean tweaking my focus. With so much uphill, and plenty of rocks and logs that require a pretty big step to make it up, I realized that I needed to add more step-ups on a big box to my routine — doing both strength and speed work with the box, adding weights for strength and higher reps with no weight for the speed and intensity aspect.
RUNNING AND HIKING HILLS
I’ve added mileage to my runs, of course, and added walking, but the biggest change is adding a lot more elevation, both running and hiking. I know that a huge portion of mountain running success comes from the uphills … but also crushing the downhills and using them for recovery. But it’s not just elevation, it’s being able to do up and down uber-technical terrain basically floating above the rocks and roots. So much of it comes down to line choice, and the more time I spend on trails I’m not familiar with, the better my line choices will become.
DOUBLING DOWN ON MOBILITY AND RECOVERY
Last, but absolutely not least, I’ve been focusing a lot more on my mobility and recovery during prep time. That means the occasional nap when I can make the time, and perfecting sleep hygiene, getting eight hours a night in a cool, dark room. A morning yoga routine, post-run stretching and regular yoga-for-athletes sessions, plus some regular self-massage with a lacrosse ball and a foam roller just tops it off.
When August 25 rolls around, I’ll be ready to go.
Register now for a summer you won’t forget.