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Tag: Running

Beating the heat at the Vermont 100 Endurance Race

The TL:DR of this post to “beat the heat” for a hot 100:

  1. Make friends on the course.
  2. Ice early, often, and everywhere you can on your body.
  3. Wear white to reflect heat.
  4. It’s never as bad as you think. 
  5. Start out painfully slow.
  6. The 5-minute nap is a powerful tool. 
  7. Be blessed with a completely selfless pacer.  
  8. Watch your heart rate.  It’s an indicator of stress just like the horses on the course!

Adjust your expectations if racing in hot conditions.  I joke that life is about managing expectations, and this race was no different. The race changed from a sub-24 to completion when I saw the weather forecast. Having an ego will get you killed, and this being only my 2nd 100 miler it was more important to finish. Some much-needed advice came from a friend of my parents, Barry Lewis.  An experienced ultra-runner and long-distance tri-athlete. He knew that trying to “bank” time in the morning is a poor strategy that will lead to failure. He stressed the point of running “painfully slow” in the beginning.  It was tough to watch so many people take off in the beginning, but he was right. If I could control my pace I would be reeling them in at the end, or at least not just another casualty of the heat.

It is human nature before we start any task to the think it’s worse than it truly is. We make problems greater than they really are. Fear cripples us before we even start. WHY? It’s never as bad as you think. At the start of the race, I noticed the course had a large amount of tree coverage. There were only a few exposed sections. This made me breathe a sigh of relief. The temps were high but never felt unbearable (heat index of 106 was what was reported on the course). I started to use ice at the first aid station. I knew if I had ice on me before the sun came up I would keep my core temp down. I stayed ahead of hydration but still drank mostly to thirst. I put ice in my drinks and for my chest at every aid station. Everyone has a different strategy, I just filled a ziplock bag with ice and stuck it on my chest.  It was held in place with my hydration vest. The added benefit of the zip lock bag is you can drink the icy water when it melts.

The support crew! Mark and my dad at the pre-race meeting.

During the race, I chatted with my fellow runners, made friends, and heard stories of what brought others to the 100 mile distance. The ultra running community is very friendly and people love to share their stories.  I’m no different and made many friends along the way. They help break up the miles and take the focus off the pain. If you are left alone with your pain for 30 hours, odds are, your pain will win.  It is easier to suffer through a race of this caliber if you know your friends are suffering too. Even if you just made those friends a few hours ago.

I was able to see my Dad at a few of the aid stations. The support of my father reminded me of the book Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise and the section about parental involvement. We only can reach a level of performance if we have the support of our parents.  Dependant on how much they care determines how much time, effort, encouragement, and overall success we will enjoy. I have to make sure I extend the same to my 3 children.  Making sure that I take an interest in their hobbies and support their efforts.

The trail had more tree coverage than I expected… and lots of horses.

For a 100 mile race, most would say the real race begins at mile 70.  Camp 10 bear was the last place you see your support crew and was where I was going to meet Mark Richardson.  Mark signed up for an ultra himself when he chose to pace 30 miles. Is that even common? Most people I talked to in the race had 2 or more pacers for the last 30 miles. I didn’t realize that maybe I shouldn’t have put such a large requirement on somebody like that. My last hundred was run with 2 other runners for the majority of the 2nd half.  I’m unsure if I could even run the later miles of a 100 completely alone, the night can be the most challenging mentally and physically. As much as running seems like a solo sport, ultra-running never feels like one. You talk to everybody out on the trail and you have support from complete strangers at aid stations.

“The sound of music” section of the race.

The fact that this race would match you up with a pacer is a great service. Kudos to the race director for making that happen. That made all the difference in my success and in helping me “beat the heat”.  Mark signed up to see the course and see if he wanted to run VT100 himself. He didn’t know me but made the trip up to support a complete stranger! I met Mark at such a critical spot in the race and was already 18 hours in. He didn’t even know if I would drop. Mark was ready at 10 PM to run, and really do whatever was needed to get me to the finish.

One unexpected effect of the heat was blurred vision in my left eye. I guess the muscle was fatigued and couldn’t focus. Mark watched the clock as I took a brief nap around the 80-90 mile mark. I was so tired at this point in the race I was closing my eyes as I was running. The short nap was an effective tool to get me both mentally and physically back in the game. I should have done it sooner, I should stop putting off little problems in a race because they can easily become larger issues. I was fortunate this was easily corrected with a nap.

The type of people you will meet on the trail at 2 AM.

Something else I would have done differently was to wear my headlamp around my waist. I had never seen so many flies on the trail, but that might just be normal for Vermont. I should have moved my light around my waist so they wouldn’t be flying into my face. Mark was also kind enough to lend me a bug mask to wear!

Since VT100 is one of the last 100-mile horse races in the county I learned some interesting facts about the horses. A fellow runner who made performance rubber shoes for horses mentioned they use heart rate to gauge stress level on the horses! There are hold stations on the course where they monitor the HR recovery after they have the horse do a gallop or trot. This will show if the horse is close to overexertion. For hot races, a heart rate monitor can provide a critical insight of when to slow down or walk before it is too late.

Almost home… Only a few miles from the finish.

Finally, Mark and I were in striking distance of the finish and we had just left the final aid station. We scarfed down some delicious waffles from Polly’s and set out to complete the course. I was using every aid station as a checklist to be completed. I just kept saying “get to the next aid station”, and really before I knew it they were all done. All I had to do now was make it to the finish line. Something came over me in those last few miles and I wanted to see how many people could I pass. I swear we passed at least 20 people, with each one giving us a little push to pass the next. It was one of the high points for me in the race because I felt good to still be able to run this late in the race.  

I seriously wouldn’t have done it without him! Thanks Mark!

The question comes up all the time. Why run 100 miles? I like the problem-solving of it. I enjoy training. Come race day, I enjoy meeting new people going through the same experience. It teaches you that life rarely goes as planned. My current favorite quote is “The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation but your thoughts about it.” As soon as you start thinking negative the race will go south, but that is true of everything in life. Try to stay positive regardless of the situation, and regardless of what happens to you.

A few little clips from the race.
It now sits next to my other trophies in my office to inspire me daily!

High-quality pics and video of the Vermont 100 that I took can be found here.

Useful tips and quotes for running

Here are some useful running tips from the professionals I have heard over the past year.  The majority of them were taken from Trail Runner Nation or some other podcast that I have downloaded.

  • Training
    • If you wake up and you don’t have spring in your legs you shouldn’t be doing anything fast.
    • Stomach can only process 300 calories and hour but you burn 1000(this varies per person).
      • Carbohydrate is stored as glycogen in the muscles and liver. You can store about 400g of glycogen in your muscles, and about 100g in your liver (though, as we shall see, these can be increased with training). This means you can store about 2000 kcal as glycogen – enough energy to run or walk about 20 miles.
      • You need to learn to burn fat as an energy source. Getting your body to burn fat means you won’t hit “the wall”, or it comes a lot later.
    • Training is 80 low intensity or aerobic and 20 high intensity or anaerobic.
    • Learn to love other things besides running.

      • Choose cross training so you work other areas of your body.
      • Bike, swim, or do the elliptical machine, that’s the secret to keep you running for years.
    • Every run should have a purpose.
      • Tempo
      • Speed play
      • Fun run
      • VO2Max or the newer VVo2Max
      • Interval
      • Long Run
      • Hill Repeats
    • Follow another person’s training plan who has completed what you want to accomplish. This will give you mental confidence in knowing someone else has completed the distance/race following the same plan.  
    • H.I.T.T causes your body to make adaptions with running at a faster pace.
    • Most pros are running high mileage, I.E. 100 miles per week.  The more you run it will develop a rhythm.  The more you practice something the less you need to think about performing the action.  If you can perform the action with greater ease then there is less mental effort.  It takes time for our bodies to adapt so it needs to be gradual.  The more mileage you do the more your body is forced to adapt.
    • Running long distance is like flying a plane.  You are constantly checking all the nobs and making little modifications.  Keep asking yourself:
      • Am I too hot or cold?
      • Am I eating enough?
      • Am I running the downhills too fast?
      • Did I take enough salt tabs?
      • Is my effort sustainable?
  • Race Day
    • There is a 20 percent boost in performance when running with a person vs running alone. Try to stick with somebody in a race that runs a similar pace.
      • You still need to run your own race, but it is mentally easier to follow than lead in a race.
    • Go into each race expecting it to hurt. Mentally prepare yourself for the pain but know it is finite.  It makes it easier to accept.
    • Don’t run out of your shoes the first time doing a new race distance. Just get it done so you know what it will be like for next time. Smile.  It will be a long day if you are hating life.
    • After every race write down 3 things
      • 3 things done right.
      • 3 things done wrong.
      • 3 things you would do differently next time.
    • Run your first mile at the pace you would like to run your last mile.
      • Run a pace that you can maintain.  This is crucial in marathon distance or higher.
    • Perform a mind map the day before a race.
      • Close your eyes for 20 minutes and picture the finish line.  Think about all of the positives in the race and the worst things that could happen.  How would you handle those situations?  If you do the mental training you will require less energy if something happens on the run.
  • Running Form
    • Lean like you are trying to give somebody a kiss. This causes you to lean from the ankles not the waist.
    • There’s a hand foot connection. Don’t extend far out in front of you. Your hand should track from your hip to your chest and close to the torso, but not across it.
    • Use the big muscle groups to run. They heal quicker and can not be injured as easy, I.E. Run from the glutes / hips since they are less likely to be damaged.
    • Strengthen the foot muscles to avoid injury.
      • Spend more time barefoot and do quick squats and leg exercises throughout the day.
    • Stand tall when running.  Don’t slouch.  Remember to check your posture if it is late in the race.  Extend your arms high above your head as a way of confirming you are not slouching.  Don’t drop your chin.
    • Elbows shouldn’t come past the hips. Most runners have too much arm swing which causes over striding.
    • Fix your form and keep it strong late in the race.
      • You will have a better time and not have to work as hard to run.
    • Run with a breathing pattern
      • Every foot strike is linked to either inhale or exhale.  Follow the orders below.
        • SLOW PACE – 3 inhale -2 exhale
        • FACE PACE – 2 inhale – 1 exhale
  • Sleep and Rest
    • Waking up multiple times over the night is not normal. Even if you drink a large amount of water you should not wake up. Your stress levels may be too high or could be dietary issues. Odds are this is the result of over training. Make sure you workout schedule is on a 3 week cycle so you get enough rest.
      • 3 weeks on / 1 week off for training cycle.
      • I noticed I have had bad nights sleeping after very stressful runs.
    • Your body will wake up when it is ready to wake up. You shouldn’t need an alarm clock to wake up.
      • This really isn’t possible when you have to work in the morning.  This could be saying that you need more sleep.  Enough that you would wake up naturally around the time your alarm goes off.
  • Motivational Quotes
    • Every person has a pain threshold.  Learn to push through it to achieve the next level of performance.
    • You are twice as fast as you think you are.
    • If you want something bad enough you will find a way to make it happen.
    • You’re only as good as your best day and your best day could be yet to come.
    • Thinking about how you will think— how you will react— when those highs and lows come along is a key to success in both racing and life.
    • If something scares you it means you are on the right path. Fear should be there as you are progressing.
    • “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”   – From the book Who Moved My Cheese
    • Find your carrot in life. There may be multiple, but chase the things that truly motivate you.
    • Choose either between the pain of suffering or the pain of regret.
    • Be someone who confronts structured suffering on a regular basis.
      • The fog of malaise will lift the more you do.
      • Make the pain and pleasure of self-progress your true lover.
      • Hunger/experience is what everybody is attracted to, you want to be one of the few actually going out to get it.
    • You never touch the physiological limit of our bodies we just hit the mental limit.
    • There’s nothing that separates you physically from other people who have achieved something great. They just didn’t let fear hold them back.  They are using either past experience or dedication to continue achieving great things. People who succeed the most at life are good problem solvers.  They know how to remain calm when they hit a road block, and that is what you need to learn.

Making a few changes…

Every year I make adjustments to my training.  I do this to see if I can make improvements, or make running even more enjoyable.  This is a list of the recent things I’ve changed to help my training, and overall health.  I’ve listed them here with the reasons for the change.

 

 

  • Standing desk
    • Strengthens the hips and makes you more likely to walk around more.  I work at a desk all day near a data center.  When my fitness tracker, the Garmin Fenix 3, tell me I’ve been standing still for too long I take a quick stroll around the data center.
  • Weekly Yoga
    • Running tends to make your body tight and decrease range of motion.  Yoga helps correct some of the muscle imbalances and improve range of motion.  I just feel better when yoga is in my schedule. Works great for balance, which you need for running, since that’s what running is.  The act of balancing over and over again on one foot.
  • Zero Drop
    • This one is tough, twice I’ve had pain in my calf during a race by from zero drop shoes.  I’ve now decided to never race without heal support.  I need more time to adjust to the lack of support, since I’ve had heal support my entire life.  I do believe that you should vary your shoe selection and stimulate the muscles in your foot in different ways.  I’ve also changed my daily sneakers to a very flat, zero drop shoe.  This helped correct a foot pain I’ve had for years.
  • Less grain carbs and more healthy fats and fruits
    •  I’m trying to increase fat burning enzymes and lower inflammation in my body.  Running at a lower HR decrease stress, which also decreases inflammation.  By changing your diet you also teach your body to better use fat as fuel.  The less you eat grain carbs, the more fat burning enzymes you will create.  The body is meant to burn fat as fuel.  If you do this you will run faster, farther, and with less effort than before.
  • 85-90% of your training at the 180 Formula
    • This one is HUGE.  I can go on and on about how much I love this type of training.  I have less stress, recover faster, feel better, and just enjoy training more.  See Phil Maffetone’s 180 Formula to calculate the HR you should run at.  This will take 3 months for your aerobic system to adapt.
  • Slow weights
    • I really hate weight training, but I know it’s important.  I use a kettle bell to do a few quick exercises throughout the day instead of dedicated weight training.  See Phil Maffetone’s slow weights article.
  • Back to back runs
    • Long run on Saturday, and a second effort on Sunday normally in the afternoon for heat acclimation.  This gets you used to running on tired legs, and running when you are uncomfortable.  You need to be VERY careful with this cause it is easy to get injured if you increase mileage too quick.
  • Striders
    • 100 meters at 95% effort.  1 Minute recover x5 or as many as I fit in.  This is to get my body ready for speed, and to increases leg turn over.  This is helpful for being able to run faster on race day.
  • Hill training
    • Works again on leg turn over.  Forces you to run at a faster cadence.
  • Fuel
    • GenuCan or Vitargo for my new pre-race meal.  I may still take sugars on the run, but this leaves the gut faster and gets to muscles quicker.  Still need to take an electrolyte and water during the run.  This is such a good fuel source cause it doesn’t spike your insulin and provides a nice steady burn of fuel.  Your diet needs to be similar to this as well, so don’t make this change until you are less carb dependent.
  • Take a full body inventory when you wake up
    • I forget what podcast I heard this on, but when you wake up in the morning take an immediate inventory of your body.  Are you very stiff or sore?  Do things ache really bad?  Guess what.  You might be over training.  That’s not how your body is supposed to feel when you wake up.  You might need to take a few more easy days, or slow down the pace.  Maybe your not getting enough sleep or have too much other stress in your life.  If you don’t feel near 100% when you wake up you need to take the day off or run very easy.  Trust me, you will not decondition.  If anything you will make yourself stronger/faster.  The benefit from a workout comes in the recovery, not the workout itself.