My first ultra pt. 2: Logistics, equipment and stuff

The finish line of the Keys 100 in 2012. With hard work, luck and preparation, I’ll be running under that in seven weeks!

I’ve finally started getting myself back together after spending much of the last couple of months immersed in projects, which hopefully means I will be back to blogging on a more regular (i.e. more than once a week) basis.   I’ve got a few things I’m working on right now, but one of the things I wanted to write about as soon as possible were the logistics of running my first ultra earlier this month.

Now, I’m kind of already acclimated to endurance sports that require a bit of logistical planning as I’ve gone through two seasons of triathlons and duathlons at this point, and both of those are sports that require you basically drag a steamer trunk full of equipment to the race site, just to be able to meet the bare standard of what’s required to complete the event.

But the ultra was different because while it was just one activity, over and over again, it was an activity that lasted me nearly seven hours.  That’s just a couple hours shy of the running time of the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy! And when I do the Keys 50 in less than two months, I’ll be on my feet for an even longer period of time, probably longer than all of the Star Wars episodes combined (but fortunately with no Jar Jar Binks, thank heavens).

Because of the length of the event – and also because the aid stations are not as closely bunched together as with most races –  I had to take a lot of things into consideration that are not even on my radar for triathlon or regular road races. Here’s a rundown of how I handled all of that, as well as how I will have to do things differently when I run the Keys ultra.

CLOTHING

First, my shorts.  I have become incredibly picky about my shorts over the years, specifically my desire to have actual pockets in said shorts.  As far as I’m concerned, the key “pocket” (I use that word loosely) can go the way of cotton racing clothes and sports bras cobbled together from jock straps.  I am doing my part by never, ever buying another pair of running shorts that does not have at least one substantial pocket that closes with a zipper. I also needed the shorts to be long enough that I wouldn’t end up with a third-degree friction burn courtesy of my inner thighs, so I ended up wearing my Oiselle Long Rogas, which have two! – TWO! – real pockets as well as a six-inch inseam.  They worked perfectly.  I know Oiselle’s stuff is spendy but I’m willing to forgo six pairs of shitty no-pocket shorts that rustle like plastic grocery bags if it means being able to afford one pair of shorts that let me carry more than a single energy gel at a time.

(Seriously, y’all. My kingdom for running shorts with pockets.)

I also wore a sleeveless top instead of my normal running singlet because I ran with a hydration pack on my back and I didn’t want to have chafing all over my shoulders.  (More about that later.)  I started the run with my Brooks Ghosts but then at mile 16-17, I switched those out for an old pair of Asics Gel Nimbus.  That was a really weird sensation, because my feet had gotten used to one insole and then all of a sudden it was like, “Surprise! New insole!” I adjusted okay but it was really awkward for about a half-mile.

HYDRATION

With six or seven aid stations over the course of 33+ miles, I was going to be responsible for my own hydration.  Plus, it was hot. I wouldn’t say it rose to the level of “hot as balls” – maybe “hot as vas deferens”? – but it was in the 70s for the last part of the run.  I managed my hydration by wearing a Camelbak that could hold about 1.5 liters of water, and then I had an Amphipod handheld that I had filled with a mix of water and Accelerade.  I sipped from each regularly – the water more than the Accelerade mix, obvs – and at the halfway point, I dumped out the frothy remnants of my Accelerade mix and refilled with a fresh mix of powder and water.  Brian helped out by adding more cold water to my Camelbak, which not only helped by giving me cold water to sip but also by cooling my sweaty back off.

I kept a good sweat going pretty much the entire time, and yet I only had to pee once, and my post-run pee was a good shade of yellow. (And if this bit of information grosses you out, I’m sorry, but welcome to the world of endurance sports, where pee is one of the less disgusting things you’re likely to encounter on any given day.)  In all, I think I managed my hydration well, which makes sense as I’ve had over six years of experience as a distance runner who trains in Florida heat to figure this stuff out!

NUTRITION

Whenever I do marathons, I usually stick to energy gels and sports drinks, which is usually enough to get me through. (Although there have been a couple of times when the thought of eating yet another energy gel made me nauseous and angry and so instead I ate fruit.  Delicious, delicious fruit sent from heaven itself. Nom nom nom.)

However, I’ve heard repeatedly that energy gels and sports drinks are not enough for an ultra-endurance event.  Fortunately Brian learned a few things during his Ironman training, like that Ensure/Boost shakes were a good way to get quick calories and also that Clif bars work well because you can chew them down to a thin gruel-like consistency and then swallow them while running/cycling without ending up with crumbs going down your windpipe.  *shudder* I had practiced eating Clif bars while running as part of my training and they worked well for me, so I packed a couple to take with me in my Camelbak.  About once every 10-15 minutes, I’d take a bite and chew it while running, then swallow it.

There were two kinds of aid stations: ones that were just liquids and ones with food.  The ones with liquid had Gatorade, full-sugar cola and water.  When I went to those stations, I always drank one of each.  The ones with food had candies, chips, pretzels, bananas, and, in one instance, peanut butter and jelly.  Every time I stopped by one of the food aid stations, I made sure to eat a couple of things.  Once, I ran off while chewing a quartered PB&J, and another time, I ran off with a handful of pretzels, which I ate every time I stopped to walk.

Basically, my strategy was to keep a constant trickle of easily-digestible calories going into my system.  I would have to say it worked well, because I never had GI distress and I never felt like bonking. When my muscles gave me trouble, it wasn’t because they were out of fuel but rather because, you know, I’d just run thirty some-odd miles.

THE DAMAGE

My feet were not nearly as mangled as I expected them to be.  I had three HUGE blisters around my big toes, one of which actually ended up getting infected (puke), and I lost a toenail.  The worst damage came from my sports bra, though. I wound up with some serious chafe marks beneath each boob, even though I had applied a liberal layer of Body Glide before the race.  That kind of sucked.

My left knee ended up bothering me for a couple of weeks after the race, but since I didn’t run at all during that time thanks to my infected blister, it had plenty of time to heal.

TRAINING/RACING

I stepped back to four days a week of running for this, with two shorter runs during the week and then a monster run on Saturdays followed by a shorter long run on Sundays.  My plan has been to tackle the long runs as if I were racing, which means a run-walk ratio of three minutes to one minute.  (This is what I’ve done every time I’ve tackled a new distance – half marathons, marathon, you name it. It works.)  I’ve dressed for those races in the clothes and gear I plan to wear for my ultras.

I’m working on bringing more cross-training back into my plan – more time on my bike, more weight training, time in the pool.  My reasons are three-fold: I miss cross-training, triathlon season is starting, I don’t think my body can handle mileage in excess of 50 mpw.  This way I can stay fit and strong while limiting the risk of injury due to too much running.

There’s a psychological component to my training as well, which in my case involves a lot of research, watching videos and reading race reports, practicing visualization and positive affirmations.  This shit sounds hokey, I know, but it really makes a huge difference for me.  In the past I’ve had a tendency to fall down the spiral of suck – which is my name for the psychological black hole I fall into when things get rough – but since I’ve started making an effort to train my mind as well as my body, I rarely fall down the spiral of suck these days.  Seriously, it works!

Okay, so that’s what I did for the Long Play.  But the Keys 50 miler is going to be quite different than the Long Play.  Here’s a few of the differences:

  • It will be longer by about 17 miles.
  • It will start at 10 a.m. instead of 6 a.m. or 7 a.m., so right at the start of the hottest part of the day.
  • It will be run in the middle of May, a deliberate choice on the part of the race organizer, who wanted this to be an east-coast counterpart to Badwater.
  • It will be run almost entirely on asphalt instead of trails.
  • It doesn’t look like there’s a lot of shade.
  • Brian will be crewing for me the whole time instead of just meeting me at aid stations.
  • I’ll most likely be running well into the night.  Like, we’re talking 10-11 p.m.  But a bonus is that I might get to see endangered Key deer!  (I am such a dork.)

Those differences are not insubstantial!  So I’m trying to prepare by doing things like going out for my long runs starting at 10 a.m., but I yet haven’t had the opportunity to run in the kind of 85-90 degree heat that I’ve heard characterizes this race.  Hopefully that will come soon.  And yes, I am aware I used the word “hopefully” in reference to running 25+ miles in 85 degree Florida heat.  It is true, ultra training has utterly demented me.

I also need to get a reflective vest to wear so I don’t get hit by a car (because that would suck) and a new sports bra that won’t rub my ribcage into oblivion, and I’m going to get a second pair of Asics Gel Nimbus because I know the Brooks Ghost are not going to cut it for this.

I also have to do some serious research into prepping my feet.  I don’t mind if my feet are mangled after the race, and in fact, I’ve just learned to accept that I will have ugly monkey feet until the day I decide to stop running, but I don’t want to have those issues popping up mid-race. I’ll try Super Glue, duct tape, those funky Injinji toe socks, whatever. I just want to keep my feet intact until the second I cross the finish line, and then they are free to erupt into a billion nasty blisters.

So that’s where I’m at right now.  I’ve got seven weeks left until the big day, and I know that if I want it to be an incredible experience, I have to put the training and preparation.  It’s a lot of work, I know, but I’m pretty sure it will be worth it.

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31 responses to “My first ultra pt. 2: Logistics, equipment and stuff

      • Yep! I just don’t understand why other brands have such an aversion to pockets. Runners need to carry things!

    • I’m a Distance shorts devotee as well, although the inseam is definitely much shorter than the long Roga. I believe the distance shorts are 3″.

      Pre-Oiselle, I wore the V-notch Race Ready shorts, which have 2 velcro pockets in front and 5 mesh Gu-sized pockets in the back. They look kind of dorky, but they hold more Gu more comfortably than anything else I’ve tried. http://www.raceready.com/category/womens-running-shorts.html

  1. This was a really great post full of good information. Thanks for posting about your race prep and strategy. I’m so excited for you!

  2. Without funsize Payday candy bars, I would not have been able to complete my 50K (or the accompanying training). They’re easy to carry, a good proportion of carbs and proteins, and easily-digestible (at least for me). I know a guy who runs 100+ miles on Paydays and cans of Ensure. Anyway, thanks again for great info in this. And best of luck with your training and race!

  3. I have been excited for this post ever since you put up your race report! Great info – I am thinking of trying a 50k next January and this has given me a lot to think about.

  4. Have you ever listened to Trail Runner Nation podcast ? They focus on trail ultras but they have a lot of episodes about mental training. I think you’d really enjoy it.

  5. I am so impressed! While I have not run further than a marathon, I am a full believer in the Injinji socks! I have really weird toes that blister in within five miles in other running socks. With the silly toe socks, I’m blister-free.

  6. Great info. A lot to be taken into consideration for running an ultra, I’d be trying to figure everything out too.
    Those temperatures and time a day to run are scary, but at least you’ll get some cooler weather during the evening hours, when you’ll be way more tired than at the beginning.

  7. Here is some totally unsupported other info! I hear Coeur Sports bras and the North Face Stow-n-go bra have pockets. (Neither is available here so I haven’t tried them yet, but I habitually stick my shot blocks in my bra and once got mightily chafed from it.)
    This one I have tried – Larabars are also good for snacking on the run; they’re mostly dates and nuts anyway and the soft texture goes down easily.
    Good luck for the ultra! All this logistics sounds fairly intimidating. Not to mention the heat.

  8. A few pieces of unsolicited advice, from a gal who did an ultra in Singapore (aka, also very hot & humid):

    1. Change into a dry shirt periodically. Florida humidity is like Singapore – aka, no evaporation. I found that changing my shirt was key. Even if I kept my bra on, putting on a dry shirt helped wick some sweat from my bra and keep me feeling drier. [Although I still get a *bit* of chafing under my pack.]

    2. If you haven’t yet, I’d suggest experimenting with salt tabs. If you’re a sweater, it’s hard to take in enough electrolytes by mouth (in my experience). Salt tabs are my saviors, and let me drink mostly water (I also don’t like sports drink much while racing), while keeping my ‘lytes high.

    3. Ice cold towels and bandanas and sponges will be beautiful.

    Good luck as you continue training!!!!!

    • Thank you for the advice! I will make sure to bring extra tops. I also was going to use bandanas or towels of some type to soak in cold water and drape over the back of my neck, as I’ve seen others do it in the videos and photos I’ve watched of previous races.

      I do have a question about the salt tabs. How often do you take them? I’ve never used them before because I find that I can deal with sports drinks okay but I also know that what worked during shorter, cooler races might not work for me during a longer, hotter one.

      Also, did you write a race report of this ultra? Can I read it?

      • Best way to figure out salt tabs is to just practice while training. When you finish a hot run are your arms/face crusty with salt? Depending how much, try 1-2 an hour, if you’re really salty, do 1-2 every 30 mins. It’s a little thing, but it makes a HUGE difference. I was getting all head-achey and moody during my Ironman long rides and runs, started popping salt pills and it was like I was a new person. If you have a Garmin just set your timer to beep every XX mins- it’ll remind you to eat/drink/salt. Also the sports bra chafing – TriSlide is magic. It’s more geared for helping get a wetsuit on, but I use it anywhere I get hotspots (chest, feet, neck, etc.).

      • If it’s particularly hot I usually do end up with sweat crust on my body and clothes, which is a good sign that I should probably take them. Right now, though, the weather is being a bit of a pill and not giving me the kind of hot temperatures I need for my training, but as soon as it gets hot (which I hope is soon, I’m running out of time), I’ll try the salt pills.

        Did you ever use sport drinks while IM training, or were you strictly water-and-salt pills?

        Also Is TriSlide any different from Aquaphor? That’s what I’ve used for neck chafing with my wetsuit. BodyGlide didn’t seem to do a damn thing for my sports bra chafing.

        BTW thank you SO much for the advice and information. This is incredibly helpful.

      • Sorry, I can’t figure out how to respond directly to your follow-up comment – so I’m posting at the bottom. For IM training I used Ironman Perform sports drink and water, since that’s what they were going to have on the course. As the day went on I relied more heavily on the water/salt, just because I was getting sick of all the sweetness (I was also using Gu, Honey Stinger Waffles, and a few Gu Chomps to give myself some variety). They offered chicken broth on the run course and I never tasted anything so salty and amazing! I stayed pretty on top of nutrition all day because once you dig yourself into a calorie deficit, it’s almost impossible to eat and drink yourself out of it – especially while running because you don’t want to overload your stomach.

        I worked with a coach and basically her motto was – don’t feel good? Eat/drink/salt. Getting crabby? Eat/drink/salt. Headache? Eat/drink/salt. Hunger, dehydration, electrolyte imbalance – almost always manifests itself in a way you can immediately deal with as long as you recognize the symptoms. I also wouldn’t wait until it’s super hot to try the salt pills – you can use them in regular training no matter what the temp. You basically want to make sure they don’t upset your stomach, so just try adding a couple to a training run. Once you’re sure you can handle them, insert as needed especially as it gets hotter.

        Tri-Slide is a aerosol – think PAM cooking spray. It’s incredibly slippery (don’t spray it while standing on bathroom tile in your cycling socks – I have the bruises to prove what a terrible idea that is). It’s much lighter than Aquaphor, but I like it better because I feel like it lasts longer and isn’t goopy- spray it on before the race starts and then just carry a tube of Aquaphor in your pocket as emergency blister/chafing/chapstick relief. I don’t even bother with BodyGlide, I haven’t found it to be helpful at all.

        Good luck!! I can’t wait to read more about your adventures in training and racing!

      • I’m with LC – just have to experiment a bit. It’s easier if you have a symptom (I, too, suffered headaches) – so I experimented to find the minimum salt required for me to stop the headaches. Bonus is that (for me, and others) increased electrolytes helped my body absorb more fluid, too – so I stopped getting a sloshy stomach (previously could only swallow about 2 sips of water at a time; now can down 8 oz at a time, if I want).

        For me, the magic number is about 1 tab/hour (plus about 1 pkg nutrition w/ ‘lytes per hour), but I also focused on paying attention to how much I sweat (subjective, but the humidity = very little evaporation, so it’s a bit easier), temperature, how I’m feeling, how water is sitting, etc – so I have a rough idea how to adjust for different conditions. For example, my plan was 1/hour on ultra day – but an early morning rain storm actually cooled the first two hours of the race, so I ended up reducing my tab intake because I wasn’t quite as sweaty early on. Long way of saying ‘practice!’ 🙂

        My race report starts here: http://runwithholly.com/2013/10/07/tnf100-the-north-face-50k-2013-race-report-part-1/ However, I should warn you – I didn’t write this one with lots of gory hydration/nutrition details; it’s a little more touchy/feeling-y. And it’s…umm…long. There are quite a few differences between this race and the one you’ll be doing (mine was only 50K; on trails; in familiar territory for me) – but if you want to chat more about humidity, salt tabs, or whatever else…feel free to drop me an email (runwithholly-at-gmail-dot-com). Good luck with your continued training; I’m looking forward to following along!!

      • I thought about the comments from you and LC yesterday while out for my first hot run (77 degrees in the middle of the day) and at mile 6 I started to get a touch of a headache. So today after work I’m going to the nearest running goods story and getting some salt tabs (and some toe socks). Thanks to both of you for the tips. I probably would have not even thought to try these out.

        And thanks for leaving your email and race report, Holly! I plan to read it tonight when I get home.

  9. This is going to be AMAZING! I ran the Ragner through the keys a couple of years back and it was an incredible experience, but, as you noted, you need to be prepared that there is virtually no shade and you are running on the shoulder of a major road the entire time. My biggest regret was not investing in a good pair of sport sunglasses that fit snugly on my face. Also, be patient for the views — there are some jaw-dropping spectacular moments but, because you’re on US 1, there are also a lot of long stretches where you are running by gas stations, tacky knick-knack shops, and convenience stores. Just keep on going — around the next bend the ocean will pop out and stun you all over again.

    • AUGH! You did Ragnar! I really, really want to do one of those but we just haven’t been able to make it work. One of these days…

      Thanks for the heads-up about the running conditions. I’ve driven on the Overseas Highway before and I tried to ride my bike on it once, but I’ve never run along it. I will remember what you say about being patient for the views, because I do recall the pretty being punctuated by stretches of tacky fug-ness.

      Also now I’m thinking I may need to upgrade from the Target sunglasses I’ve been wearing…

  10. I’m not a distance runner, but what brought you to use the 3:1 run walk ratio? I guess I’m under the impression that for races, you should strive to run the entire thing.

    • Hey! I was going to write a comment in response but that comment became incredibly long, so I think what I’ll do is address this in a post and then post the link here in the comments, cool? It’s a good question and I want to address it in depth.

  11. The key deer are soooo flippin cute! Really enjoyed reading your recap and can’t wait to hear how the 50 miler goes!

    • Thank you! I really, really want to see a Key deer in real life. I think the possibility of seeing one will really help me through that stretch between Big Pine and Sugarloaf. When did you get to see one?

  12. This sounds like a fabulous event. i love the break-down of what stuff you brought and ate. It is such important information to look back on next time you toe the line.
    Congratulations!

    • Thanks! I’m sure it will change as I try different races in a variety of terrain and climates – because I hate to say it but I’ve been totally bitten by the ultra bug – but I find the logistics part of this really interesting (and not just my experiences but the experiences of others as well).

  13. I just remembered a food tip from my ultrarunning pal… don’t know if it would be worth anything to you, but she carries a block of marzipan with her – the stuff they sell at the grocery store for putting on top of Christmas cakes. It’s not very heavy for being such a solid lump of fat and sugar calories, and you could probably pre-salt it too if you wanted to all-in-one the nutrition.

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