I felt I was a little late to the training schedule, which showed a start in May. The plan was basically created for a 50-mile event (JFK), with a short taper for those folks doing the Palo Duro Canyon 50km. The schedule I was provided showed running six times weekly, which I didn’t get anywhere near doing!
I further modified the schedule myself to accommodate the fact I didn’t have as much running base mileage as the others did. I did have quite a good bit of cycling fitness though, as having recently completed a bunch of high altitude riding in Colorado, including the Triple Bypass 120 mile single-day ride. I believe that cycling fitness can translate quite well to running fitness.
I was aiming to have two long runs, back-to-back, on the weekends, with at least a couple longer medium-distance runs mid-week. Obviously, as much of that I could get on the trails and/or hills, the better. I’d supplement these runs with occasional hill and track workouts.
I ended up with 13 weeks of “run training” total, running four times/week at most. I would definitely say my training was inconsistent, but my body seemed to have responded well to the schedule that I ended up with.
Here are my run totals that I ended up with, mileage and time spent:
I was still doing quite a bit of cycling when I started, so I think my fitness was at a pretty high level. I cut down on the riding the further I got into the training cycle, mostly to ensure I could get in my back-to-back weekend training runs.
Without even trying, I got down to 9.9% body fat on the Thursday before Palo Duro. In fact, this was completely unexpected with the bad diet I’d been maintaining the few weeks prior. But what can I say, I like my food and beer!
THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE
In Dallas the mornings had cooled off quite a bit after some very hot and humid weeks of pre-crack-of-dawn running/training. Those lower temperatures gave me hope that the event would be cool and I could produce a good result. Like most, I don’t do too well running in the heat and especially the direct sunlight. I try to not look at the weather forecasts too much in advance, but sometimes you just can’t avoid it. Since it was an away race, you have to know what to pack!
Found out then that the expected race day temps in Palo Duro would climb to the high-60s in the morning to low-90s in the afternoon, not the best of news, but it’s out of my control!
Literally, just a few picnic tables inside a random building at the park entrance, with separate labeled areas for the 20km, 50km and 50 milers. Not even as much as an ID check! Already so much more laid back than any triathlon I’ve ever done!
One short six mile loop, followed by two longer 12.5 mile loops. Each loop would deliver you back to the start/finish area, where you could drop a bag and refill supplies, etc, if you weren’t surviving purely with what’s on course.
I started with:
-Hoka One one Challenger trail shoes, with lace locks, black/orange
-Feetures quarter height ultra light socks, black, with 2Toms anti-blister powder in each sock
-Nike Phenom 2-in-1 running shorts, red
-Hind short-sleeved technical t-shirt, blue
-Headsweats hat (last minute borrowed), white
-Garmin 910 GPS watch and heart rate strap/monitor
-Small handheld $1 Dollar General flashlight, red
-Two Honey Stinger waffles, broke in half, in a Ziploc bag, left pocket
-Two gels, right pocket
-Hand bottle filled with ice and strawberry lemonade Nuun
A few minutes before the 7am start, people just started casually moving towards the starting area. We heard a few people say it was almost start time. Other than that, you’d never really know that there was a race! Very laid back.
All the 50 milers and 50km’ers would start at the same time, followed by the 20km’ers a short time later.
7am-ish and we were off!
We quickly moved from a mass of people into a single long line of runners, moving through the dark with our headlamps and flashlights.
Immediately I could feel both my calves tighten up, which I have never had happen this early.
I continued to run the slow and forced pace dictated by the trails and the people in front of me. Looking back, I’m glad I started out slower than I’d usually go, which helped me work out the calf cramps as well as saving energy for later in the day when I’d undoubtedly need it.
I quickly noticed I had pulled my lock laces a little too tight on my shoes! Frustration, as I had adjusted them multiple times before starting.
About three miles in, I finally seemed to have warmed up enough to have the calf cramps disappear. I was also lucky enough to find a small clearing on the side of the trail so I could quickly pull off for a bit to loosen my laces and take off my t-shirt; twisting it up and tying it in a single knot and slipping it into my waistband.
Jumped back into the line of runners and realized the laces were now too loose! Ugh. Oh well, I’m not stopping again unless I have to. They lasted the rest of the day like that.
I quickly realized that my preferred “I could run all day” heart rate I was shooting for, no more than 140bpm, was already out the door! With the temperatures already in the (what seemed like) low-70s by that time, I had to adjust my pacing a bit more to “do no harm”.
I ended up jumping right behind a group of three runners from Fort Worth, who were all from the same team (matching running tank tops) and sat in with them all through the completion of the first short six-mile loop. We chatted the whole time, talking way too early about the post-run food and our favorite breweries and beers in the DFW area. While great for distracting from the task at hand, it made me hungry and thirsty (which I always seem to be lately from all the running).
Finished the first loop back at the start/finish area, hit the bathroom quickly and then jogged over to my bag drop. Stopped to ditch the flashlight and the t-shirt. Grabbed my towel and dried off my armpits before spraying on some tri-slide to help prevent the inevitable chafing. Gates’ wife, Janet, asked me if I had eaten yet and reminded me to do so. I then headed back into the desert woods onto my first long 12.5-mile loop!
Was running on my own for the first few miles of this loop, as there was quite a bit of separation once the 50 milers split from the 50km’ers. Just trying to keep a good pace while making sure not to trip and fall.
Passed some occasional people on some wider parts of the paths, and started to pick up my pace on the open flat trails.
About mile 10, I took a short walk break through a rest stop/aid station to eat a Honey Stinger waffle and down a few small cups of water.
A little after that I saw my girlfriend and her friend, Gates, up ahead. I knew she had to have passed me when I had my calf and shoelace issues, but didn’t realize it would take me that long to catch them. Seeing them made me speed up a bit and I passed them about 11 miles in. I never saw them again until the end.
On the next hill after passing, I came upon a woman walking up, so I walked behind her. She would run a decent pace on the flats and walk up the inclines, so I dropped in behind her, introduced myself, and ran on her heels for the remainder of the first long loop, about another seven miles in total. She was from Allen TX, and was using Palo Duro as a training run for the Bryce Canyon UT 100 miler next year. 100 miles, now that’s craziness!! After completing the first long loop with her, I never saw her again until the finish area.
I was now back at the start/finish line, about 18 miles in and back at my bag drop. Once again, I towel dried the armpits and applied more tri-slide for the chafing. It must’ve worked because I never got chafed! Topped off my hand bottle with some pre-made Nuun and ice from my cooler. Then trotted off back into the trailhead.
I was once again solo for about the first three miles, 18-21, when the sun really started to have its impact. I was suffering and my heart rate was super high in the low-150s bpm range. That’s the range I top out in during my intervals! Way too high!
Had another Honey Stinger waffle about 20 miles in, with a few big gulps of Nuun to wash it down.
I was taking longer and longer walking breaks than I wanted to. I would quickly tire and have my heart rate shoot up every time I started to move faster than speed walking.
I came to the realization a while ago that any time goals I might’ve had went out the window hours ago, so it was just a matter of survival and getting to the finish line in one piece!
When I did walk, I tried to walk with purpose, in the mid-13min/mile range. I was walking faster than a lot of people were “running” by that time.
Each rest stop I would use my hat as a “Race Saver” bag, and fill it full of ice. I’d fold it in half and hold it in my hand or place it on my neck or the top of my head, allowing the ice to melt in an effort to cool me down.
This walk/ice/trot/ice/walk method would serve me from about mile 21 to mile 29. Definitely made that second long loop quite the slog!
Swallowed down a gel at about mile 28, hoping that it would pump me up enough to push me through the end. Tasted good but ultimately did little for my forward momentum.
Mile 30 finally ticked off on my Garmin and I forced myself to “run” in the last mile. It hurt. After so many miles on my feet, my right knee was aching with every footfall.
As I hit the parking lot where the final finish line was, I perked up and ran in with the best form I could muster.
Cheering spectators, who I think had been out there for the six+ hours since I started, and faster finishers, whooped and hollered for me as I came across the line with my arms raised above my head and an exhausted smile on my face. Unless something is seriously wrong with me, you’ll never see me WALK the finish chute!
I quickly found my way to our bag drop area where our Sherpa friends were and where there were chairs! Sat down and relaxed for a bit with some ice cold towels and wiped off the dirt and caked-on sweaty salt from my body.
After a bit of time, I got up to keep moving and walked to my cooler, where a cold Mexicoke and my traditional post-big-race Guinness beer was waiting for me! What a treat those both were!
Of course when you finish, you say you’ll never do another race again. But as type A athletes, we should know better to say “never”! You’re already thinking about what you’d do different and/or better the next time. As I write this report a week later, I’m still thinking about what’s next!
Of course I would’ve appreciated a cooler day, but it was still a pretty epic day to do what I did. Having never ran anything longer than 26.2 miles, and only having done that within the Ironman races I’ve done, I’ll wear the finisher’s jacket (no medal, just the zip-up hoodie) with pride!
We were told it had hit the mid-90s by the time I finished, and by the time the 50 milers were finishing it had hit the low-100s! That’s extreme.
And, wouldn’t you know it, the temperatures the very next day were 10-15 degrees cooler than our race day. Figures. As I told several people, “anyone can do this on a GOOD day!”
-Throw your road pace out the door! Running on trails is a completely different animal, requiring additional minutes PER mile! When you are trail running as part of the training cycle, you need to account for this extra time on your feet.
-If you usually use a packing list for your equipment, food, etc, stick with it! I ended up borrowing a few things (ex, hat) at the last minute, which I normally would’ve brought with me.
-If you have a packing routine/ritual, stick with it too! I usually start my packing a couple weeks in advance of a big event, with piles on my living room floor. Piles of clothes. Piles of food. Piles of electronics. And more! This time, along with my lack of lists, caused some anxiety and issues that weren’t catastrophic, luckily.
-I did a lot of running in the high-70s and low-80s, early in the morning, before the crack of dawn. It was still very hot at those times here in North Texas. Even though I never purposefully trained in the sun and heat that we’re known for, I would encourage future ultra-distance runners to purposefully go out in somewhat-extreme temperatures to get some runs in.
-Running more frequently than four times/week is definitely encouraged. Building up that durability is totally key to sustaining “when the going gets rough”. Even if it’s ‘just’ five-seven miles additionally/week, it’s worth the time on your feet.
-I would suggest more high mileage runs. In my 13-week training cycle, I only completed seven runs longer than 15 miles; and only three runs longer than 20 miles. I would pretty much suggest that 15 miles is almost a ‘default’ run distance. Also, adding as many 18+ mile runs as possible to push you past “the wall” that I experienced at mile 21. I mostly attribute that to the heat, but I honestly believe that more frequent and additional longer runs would’ve helped me push past my difficulties – by at least a few more miles.
-Lastly, nutrition-wise, do not follow my lead as what you can eat. I ate only two Honey Stinger waffles, a single gel, some small cokes and small Gatorade cups, the ENTIRE 31 miles; after only a breakfast of Nutella and two small bagels. For some reason, as a bigger guy, I don’t have the seemingly-massive nutritional requirements that most athletes require, in any sport, of any distance. You need to test out for yourself what you need to fuel and hydrate yourself, ideally during your longer runs, in conditions that will closely match your actual race/event.
(This article is cross-posted from my personal coaching blog coachscottalexander.wordpress.com)