Miwok 100k and how to run a long Mountain Race
A successful race does not begin on race day, you must show up at the start line well trained and uninjured. This is especially true in ultra distance events. This post is dedicated to the components of race day strategy and getting from mile 0 to mile 50. I will pull some specific details from my recent Miwok 100K race experience which might have been one of my “smartest” races in recent memory. Miwok 100K is a stout course which has 12,000 feet of vertical and is a Western States qualifier. On race day, using this 8 tip strategy, I passed approximately 148 runners over the last 40 miles of the race to finish in 12:54: 00, surpassing my goal of 13 hours.
- Start off conservatively: My slowest mile at Miwok 100K was the first mile. Miwok like many ultra-races, the first miles are straight uphill and in the dark, so it is logical that the first mile might be slow. I decided to take the risk that a super conservative start would guarantee not blowing up later. Even though I averaged 12:25/mi. pace along the 62 miles, my first mile was 24:44. By the 10K mark I had an average pace of 17:37. By comparison, another runner I ended up finishing in front of by 21 minutes, came in to the 10K aid station 12 minutes ahead of me – they had over a mile lead on me at that point. In races of this distance it’s best to remember that with so many miles ahead you don’t want to get off to a bad start, there is plenty of time to make up time.
- First 150 Calories before the 1 hour mark: Eat early and eat often, a mantra that should be followed by anyone racing beyond 6 hours. One should have nutrition plan to take on 200 of calories/hr. during an ultra-running event. For my Miwok effort I used 8 packages of Fuel 100 Electro-Bites, 4 gels, about 12 oz of cola and 120 oz H2O. I also tried to grab a few chips or bites of peanut butter sandwich at each aid station. Because Electro-Bites is formulated to draw water into the cells, I was never behind in calories or fluids and did not have to worry about cramping or GI issues. I created a habit many years ago that I pass on to new trail runners. If I trip on a rock or stumble at all while running I use it as a reminder to add calories, I think it is the first sign of muscle fatigue and mental acuity loss, and I do not ignore those lazy-feet moments.
- Energize with some music (only if allowed by Race Director): If you ever want to run a really fast 800m in the middle of an ultra, simple add Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” to your playlist. Even if you’re not a fan of his or hip hop in general the down-beat in this song speaks directly to everyone’s legs. I save my music for the middle of the race, it serves as both a treat and entertainment when you realize you still have full marathon to run and you think you’re physically DONE.
- Run the runnable sections with purpose: Just as it sounds, if there are sections of the race that are runnable, you should be doing some version of a run. The tricky thing for people to learn when new to ultras is that you will be walking/hiking during the race. This can fool people into hiking when you should be running, myself included. Have a plan to get yourself in gear after a long uphill or technical section. I try to run a little even in difficult terrain, even if only for a few meters to keep my mind and body alert to fact that this is race-day.
- Take the 6 hour inventory: Something happens at 6 hours, believe it,or don’t and be surprised. If you are undertrained, if you failed to hydrate and eat enough, if you’re in the wrong shoes, if you forgot to lubricate in the worst possible spots, if your support staff has made an unperceivable mistake, or you forgot your sunscreen; it all comes home to roost around the 6 hour mark. If not there, then around the time of your longest long run. Be ready to address the physical needs and mental shake-up. Be ready to use your mantras, have the right drop bag at this point, acknowledge whatever is going on, fix it if possible, but do not make any decisions that may affect your finishing or PRing during this point in the race. It will pass if you assess and address the situation.
- Go for the “road-kill” or in this case “trail-kill”: The best thing about an ultra-race is that you are only competing against a DNF. Make a decision to not get passed in the back half and try to pass someone between every aid station. At Miwok, as I passed over 140 other runners over 40 miles. I would slow for a moment and exchange a few words of encouragement or point out how lucky we are to be doing this etc. It’s also a good opportunity to lend a hand in the way of giving up some wet wipes, IB, or Electro-Bites. Then stay on your pace.
- Do the math and count the steps: If you’re close to a PR, or course cutoff, or goal time; be aware and make sure you are thinking clearly enough to do quick trail-math and stay on plan. If you find that you are not able to compute the numbers, this is a sign to take on more calories. If you have a crew or others supporting you, be sure they know to pay attention to the clock so you can rely on them regarding time and place. This is the time of the race that you start running out of real estate and you don’t want to miss a goal just because you lose focus. If all else fails just count steps to the next tree, this is one of my favorite techniques to forget the pain when I’m in big trouble out there.
- Share the “energy” and transcend: Here’s the best part; the thing that so many ultra-runners love most about our sport. Look around you, talk to the trees (they will listen), touch the bark as you go by, breathe in the earth, let the terrain carry you, surrender to the situation and smile from deep within. Yes the duplicity of Eminem and cherishing Mother Nature can happen in the same race.
I hope this helps at least one runner finish their first or next 50 mile or 100K run. As a side note, my fastest mile at Miwok was mile 29, I ran 8:11 during an aggressive downhill section, and I was able to do this because I had fueled properly from the beginning of the race. I had no cramping issues and passed a lot of runners who were fighting cramps due to under hydration and poor electrolyte balance.