Below are my answers to FAQs from ultrarunners, as suggested by Craig Thornley, as the first in a series of synchroblog posts regarding the Western States Endurance Run (WSER).
Mr CPK asks: “I know a friend who is a very good marathon runner but ended up in the hospital after his first WS due to rhabdomyolsis. I’m running my first WS this year and wondering what I need to do to keep this from happening to me?”
Hey Mr. CPK,
For now, I will spare you the nitty gritty of rhabdomyolysis, but will try to give you some direction on how to prepare for and deal with contributing factors that can occur when participating in a 100 mile race. For the WSER, you will be up against heat, electrolyte imbalances, and 22,970 feet of downhill to challenge the strongest of quads.
Heat – It can get into the low 100’s in the canyons at WSER. One of the most detailed approaches that I have seen is Arthur Webb’s article on heat training for AdventureCORPS Badwater Ultramarathon. My personal approach is to train in the heat of the day, although in Oregon it isn’t likely to reach more than 70 or 80 by June, so I have a plan for dealing with the 100’s on race day. I wear a hat with a neck protector,and a bandanna with the a pocket to hold ice.
Once the oven comes on, I have my hand held bottles filled with ice as well as beverage to keep my hands cool, and have ice put into my bandanna at every aid station through the heat of the day. I get wet at every opportunity, particularly in the creek just past the Swinging Bridge, and I submerse completely in Volcano Creek.
Electrolytes – Be sure to practice with the drink that is provided at the race. Additional salt supplementation is likely to be required to replace the salt lost in sweat. Whatever one you decide to use, practice with it in long training runs leading up to the race. Symptoms that may indicate you are low on salt are muscle cramps, nausea, and a sloshy stomach. Look for these symptoms in training, take your supplemental salt, and see if your symptoms subside. This one took me longer to get a handle on, but it was my first R2R2R I ran with Craig Thornley and Mike Scannell that helped me nail it down.
I was at mile 45, it was over 100 degrees, and I felt sick. I had been consuming lots of fluids and S!Caps every so often, although I had not experienced cramping. I proceeded to follow Craig out onto Plateau Point, but was still feeling miserable. I took another S!Cap in quick succession and within a few minutes, I felt like a new girl. The hottest, most miserable time of the day, and I had a turn around. I knew then that my first symptom is nausea, and have followed the cue since, quite successfully. Now, I have made it a habit to stay ahead of the game, beginning the S!Caps early in the run at about one per hour, and increase to one per 30 minutes, while still looking for symptoms that I may need more.
Downhill running – If you are fortunate enough to have some long descents, practice starting early in the season. Build up to be being able to run 3 or 4 miles of continuous downhill, more than once in a workout. One of my most compact training runs is in McDonald Research Forest and covers a few skills that are WSER worthy – hiking, nighttime light management, downhill pounding, and technical trail running. Starting at dusk, I hike hard 4 miles up to McCulloch Peak (2000+), then turn around and run hard down. The last 1+ mile is on a very technical trail, and I run as fast as I can, practicing footing, pounding, and nighttime proprioception.
If you are without hills, be creative – find a tall building, take the elevator to the top, and run down the stairs. Repeat. If you have no hills or tall buildings, jumping from a bench to traumatize the quads would be something. Look for some training opportunities, perhaps a 50k race with some elevation, and later a 50 miler. Partake in the WSER Training Runs if possible. On race day, stay within yourself on the downhills. Enjoy the free ride offered by the gravity, but remember that if you pound too hard early on, gravity can become your ‘frenemy’ and lead to a slow painful ending, perhaps before you get to the Auburn High School track.
With good training, you won’t need good luck! I wish you well.
Chubster asks: “I run a bunch of ultras, 100 milers are my favorite. I am usually in the top five, top ten if it is super competitive. Even with all the training, I have elevated love handles. I don’t mean a little elevated, I’m talking waaay higher. What can I do?”
Because you are having body image issues, I assume you are female. From one female runner to another, I would ask that you reflect upon why you want to diminish further the full figure that so many female ultra runners (present company included) simply do not have. You probably actually are acknowledged as a woman, something that I rarely experience. While chafe and bounce may be your enemies, at least you are getting looks. My advise to you is to embrace your feminine body, get the best looking jog bra possible (I have a Team USA bra that is too big if you want it), and work on those abs. Besides, the extra weight on the chest may help with your down hill momentum. Am I right in assuming you are indeed a fast down hill runner?