Monday, September 01, 2008

Lean Horse 2: The Basics

Here is the second part of my Lean Horse report. As promised this one is full of the nuts and bolts of my training and racing. I don't know how useful it will be or to how many people but it is the kind of post I would have loved to come across. It's not like I'm any kind of authority but if anyone is interested in trying the 50 or 100 mile ultra feel free to drop me a line. If you are thinking about the 50K then you can e-mail me as well but you should know that a good marathon plan is plenty to get you through a 50K.

My training for Lean Horse, the way I look at it, began January 1st 2008. My hope was to train as I would for an Ironman but make the running a bit heavy. I also wanted to use an iron-distance race as my last long workout before Lean Horse. My reasons for approaching training this way was because I wanted to try and avoid injury through heavy cross training and there is no way that I wanted to put triathlon on hold in order to accomplish my ultramarathon goals.

So here is the basic breakdown. Between January 1st and August 22nd I ran 1001 miles, bikes 3000 miles and swam 108,000 meters. As far as prep-races go I did a marathon and a 38.5 mile trail run in January, a 50K in February, a 50-mile in March, a Marathon in April, a marathon in May, an Ironman in June, a 50K in July and an Ironman at the beginning of August. I really feel like I was very well prepared to run 100 miles at Lean Horse and were it not for my blistering I would have felt a heck of a lot better. I think that one key to running the ultramarathon is to get in a lot of good general endurance training in addition to leg strength building and both your run and bike gets you there and the Ironman races gets you the “long-day” practice. I do think that at least one 50-mile race is necessary and it should be as similar to, or harder than, the 100 miler you plan to complete.

The formula I worked with in order to develop my pace plan was to take a predicted time for my first 50 miles and multiply that by 1.3 in order to get the estimate for how long it would take me to finish my second 50 miles. The only reason I did this was so that Misty would have some idea of how my race was going based on my first 50 mile performance. I figured the pace possibilities for a 24 through a 30 hour finish. I started at 24 hours because my only actual 50-mile finish was done in 10:28 at the Grasslands trail run and I thought that the terrain at Grasslands and Lean Horse would be somewhat similar. If I were to finish the first half in 10:28ish I could have come in under 24 hours. I completed the first 50 miles of Lean Horse in about 11:30, which actually puts me at closer to a 26:30 to 27 hour finish, which gets me much closer to my actual finish time. The other amazing thing is that a 27ish hour finish is predicted by my 50 mile run time if you look at the pace prediction chart on Kevin Sayers ultrarunning site.

A couple of important notes about predicting finish times.

1. You have to use your longest ever race in order to predict an even longer race with any accuracy. My marathon PR predicts that I would run a 50K in about 4:30, a 50mile in 8 hours and a 100 mile in just over 20 hours. Those numbers are mind boggling to me but then again so is the fact that I can run a 3:46 marathon. Maybe if I gained a lot more experience and endurance. My 50k time predicts a 100 mile more in line with 25:30 or so, now we are in the realm of what I genuinely believe I can do. In fact at mile 87.8 I was on pace for a 23:26 finish time. As I said my 50 mile time predicts a 27ish hour finish, which is what I did.

2. The times you use to make predictions must be on courses that are as similar as possible with conditions as similar as possible. The Grasslands and Lean Horse actually ended up being pretty good in terms of compatibility because both courses really fall within what most would call the “easy” category. The big difference was that Lean Horse was much hotter during the day than Grasslands so I had to run a slower 50 in order to keep going. It would have been sheer fantasy to try and use my Grasslands time to predict a finish time at somewhere like Leadville

Race strategy
Simple, I took the race one moment at a time. I researched the hell out of how people run 100s and came up with about 1000 conflicting ideas. I finally read one female ultrarunner who said that her worst races where when she tried to stick to a pace plan and her best races were when she just ran as hard as she could whenever she could. With that bit and some advice I took from Macca I decided to do the best I could do at any given moment. I had my big pacing charts to try and help my crew understand how I was running and hopefully better plan when they needed to get to the next aid station in order to meet me and the plans also gave me a sense of how I was doing at any given moment. I had my time goals sure but I wasn’t dead set on anything but finishing. Spending all the time making the pace charts ingrained in me a sense of, well, pace, which was actually very comforting during the race because I could look at my average pace on my Garmin and immediately know about what I could expect. My determination to take the race one moment at a time helped me accept the times when I had to slow and really enjoy the times when I was fast.

Injinji socks
– loved them as usual
Compression socks – I wore these over my Injinjis. Many ultrarunners double sock to help reduce friction. It is hard to tell how much the compression socks helped to keep my legs feeling fresh but they did feel good almost the entire race, my real problem was blistering not tired legs. I’m also not sure to what extent they helped keep the swelling in my feet down but they probably aren’t designed to prevent the swelling associated with 27+ hours of foot pounding buy a 210 pound man anyway. Now I do believe they helped me a great deal in terms of providing my arches with a lot of support. After the El Scorcho 50K my feet really hurt, the arches I mean, but I wore the compression socks at Vineman and nothing, Lean Horse, nada. In the final analysis I would say the compression socks worked great because anything that stops even the most minor pain during a 100 mile race is a godsend. There is one potential drawback though, Misty did not have the hand strength needed to stretch the socks over my tender and blistered feet but the other crewman, Scott, was able to stretch them enough but said you “had to be some kind of power lifter to get them on.” I don’t know if I would have had the strength to take them off and put them back on during the last 20 or so miles of the race.
Hand held water bottles – they rock! Many people do carry things around their waist but I hate the feel and it has caused me both stomach distress and chafing to wear some kind of hydration belt. The other thing I love about the hand held is that it really reminds you to drink. I carried liquid calories in one hand and water in the other throughout the race.
Hydration pack – I can not drink from a hydration pack so I don’t even bother. However, I do like to take the bladder out and use them like a mini backpack. I keep a spare bottle of water, medical kit, toilet paper, cool off bandanna, sponge, headlamp and spare batteries, and some solid calories like powerbars, gels, salted nut rolls…whatever I’m eating. And here is the other great thing about the “mini pack”, I could carry trash. There were plenty of times when I needed to consume some calories from something like a small can or plastic bottle and I didn’t want to stuff it down or chug it but I also had to keep going. The extra pockets in my mini pack served as a trash can so I could hit the trail with my nutrition and not litter.
Medical kit – just carried some Band-Aids, tape, scissors and Tylenol, at least that’s all I remember. I should have also carried some lubricant and/or salve. Oh, I ALSO SHOULD HAVE USED THE DAMN THING! I could have fixed my own feet or at least seriously reduced the damage but I didn’t. I mean I did fix my tape job once at about mile 22 because I knew it was going to cause me trouble but then I heard narry a peep from my feet until close to mile 60 or so and then I just dumbly thought “boy, my feet are starting to hurt.” I did tell my crew and aid station folks to please look at my feet at the mile 64.5 mile aid station but we failed to look UNDER my tape job so didn’t see the impending doom. That was my mistake. What can I say I’m just an F.N.G.
Hiking poles – SUCKED! I thought that they might be useful during the last few miles if I was really hurting and in the last few miles I was really hurting so I broke them out and had Misty drive three miles down the road where I would meet her next. That was the longest three miles of my life! When I used the poles I moved much slower than if I were to have just hobbled on by myself. The energy required to move quickly with them was far more than I could muster and the strength necessary to use them to actually mitigate the pressure on my feet was far more than I possessed at that time. I also couldn’t just carry them because they were too awkward, too heavy at that point in the race and they prevented me from using my hand held water bottles. I was literally in despair after about a mile with those god forsaken poles and when I finally reached Misty I was just dragging them along behind me with my shoulders slumped and my head hung low. I had been passed by about five people while I was dicking around with those cursed poles.
Cool off Bandanna- RULES as much as the hiking poles suck. I have been able to run much better in the heat when I am wearing that bandanna. It is a life saver. I did have to slow my pace when the day began to heat up but not as much as others who did not have a similar means of cooling off. You don’t want to put ice on your head because it will totally mess up your temperature regulation and dumping too much water on yourself can soak your shoes plus it’s not all that effective when you have 5 or 6 miles between aid stations. The cool off bandanna lets loose a slow release of cold around your neck and shoulders. Did I say it rules?
Shoes – I wear New Balance 767 or 768s but that’s not what is important. What is important is that you should really have different size shoes for later in the race. I normally wear a size 12 E and at mile 35 I changed in to a pair of 12 ½ EE and at mile 76 I changed in to a pair of 13 EE. If you don’t have any trouble with swelling feet then it is at least a good idea to put on a pair of fresh shoes after a while for the extra cushioning. However, the shoe change is a delicate process because you have to be certain not to tie the new shoes on too tight or you will bruise the top of your foot. It’s just like any other time but for some reason it seems easier to do in an ultra. This happened to me at the mile 76 change on my left foot so I then had pain from both the top and bottom of my foot.

Gels, powerbars, Nuun and Accelerade were the usual suspects in my kit but I got pretty sick of them after maybe 7 hours. My surprising secret weapons were cans of Slimfast, coke, bottles of coffee mixed with Swiss Miss cocoa and of course water, lots of water. I tell you the slimfast was awesome! I never got tired of it and it packs about 230 calories and it goes down well and I was able to run on it even after slamming a can. Were it not for the slimfast I would not have been able to consume enough calories to keep going.


  1. You must stop this insanity for my sake. You make all of this sound so alluring. I read yours and misty's reports and the pain sounded horrible. Now, just as with most endurance activities, the pain is forgotten and the thrill of the challenge remains.

    Jeez, you've got me wanting to do an ultra now. Thanks ;)

  2. Don't forget awesome crews. You really gotta have awesome crews. <3

  3. Very nice blow-by-blow plus the basics. Thanks for taking the time to post it.

  4. p.s yes, ditto Misty--awesome crews, definitely awesome crews!

  5. This report series is great! It provides so much information!

    It sounds like your back on your feet again.

  6. Thanks for posting the tips, its been a great read with some really good pointers

  7. Wow Bri, Great job!
    And Happy B'Day.
    I enjoyed reading the account of your journey. I'm only a little baby runner compared to you all... just starting out & I doubt I'll desire to do marathons... but reading your experiences and tips, I do learn a lot. Thanks.
    Oh... and so cool that you saw Stephan recently!

  8. Thank you for this. I love to read your experiences. I have learned so much reading your blog.

    I actually read this a while ago, but I didn't comment. Sometimes I feel unworthy to post on your blog. Silly I guess, but a little birdie told us that it is your birthday today, so...

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!! What is it, 29?