A Crash Course in Ultramarathoning

When I started training for Lake Sonoma 50, I mapped out a plan that allowed for 5 running days and 2 rest days per week.  As this process as unfolded, I’ve found my Thursdays (rest days) to be filled with anxious googling, examining of my course-manual, and pretzel eating.  The combination of no running and preparing for Friday/Saturday long runs makes my nerves set in and I start poking around the internet looking for tips and inspiration.

I’m not here to say that staying up late staring at a computer screen is a good idea, but I have picked up some helpful little tricks of the trade through ultrarunning friends on Twitter and Dailymile and I’ve learned  a lot during this training process.

    1. Blisters:  I’ve always gotten blisters and dead toenails periodically while training and racing.  Marathoning has prepared me for a lifetime of ugly feet, and I know that I will probably always get “what-happened-here” looks when I go get pedicures.  But lately an army of blisters has taken over my feet.  It didn’t bother me until they kept reopening and gushing blood on my shoes and socks during while running, which was NOT comfortable.  Finally, I found a solution: New-skin.  It’s “liquid bandage” that can be painted onto your wounds to cover and protect them from more infection or reopening.  Caution: it smells like nail polish.
New Skin

New Skin: the hottest new beauty product on the market.

  1. Sunscreen: This is an obvious one I learned the hard way.  I have olive skin, tan easily and rarely burn.   Running for 5 hours is an exception to that rule.  If you’re spending more time outside, your skin is spending more time getting damaged. (DUH).  I have learned my lesson and have invested in some Waterproof SPF 30.

    Sunny run in the Presidio!

  2. Races- Just like running marathons, there are all different amenities that make racing a very different experience than training runs.  Aid Stations, fuel options, volunteers, other runners there to weave through and markings on the road.  Racing is an amazing way to get a good peek into what to expect on the big day, and the same is true in trail running.  This weekend when Aron and I ran the Golden Gate Headlands Marathon, we were able to try all of the “ultra fare”, follow the course markings, and practice keeping moving through the aid stations. It was so much fun and motivating to change things up in the middle of the training process.
  3. “Wet Crossings”-  In reading my course manual, I came across this: “there are 12 creek crossings.  It is likely that most, if not all, will be wet crossings”.  Hmmm… Ok, this seems obvious to interpret but I’m going to hope it doesn’t mean what I think it does and post it on Twitter.  Sure enough, Peter confirmed my fear.  “Wet Crossings” means I will be running/forging through a stream or river during the run. 12 of them. Can you say wet socks?? I hear the best way to deal is to pack spare socks and some moleskin, but that my shoes will dry quickly. Eeeek, verdict is still out on how I’ll feel about this.
  4. Slowing Down AND speeding up- Friends and lots of reading taught me that trail running and ultrarunning means slowing down- a LOT. I figured this would be a natural progression so I just pace myself as best I can and try not to pay attention to my  watch.  But what I didn’t expect is that my weekday runs on the pavement would get FASTER.  Without even trying, I’m able to pick up the pace a little and have been pleasantly surprised that I haven’t totally lost my speed on the roads.
  5. Gaiters– When I first started running trails, I started to notice people running with these weird pieces of fabric covering their shoes. A couple of weeks ago, I asked a veteran ultramarathoner what they were and what they were for.  Turns out, they hook on to your shoes and ankles and keep rocks, sand, dirt, and mother nature’s other gifts out of your shoes.  The result? Less blisters, time spent digging rocks out of your shoes, and cleaner feet.  Cool!

Crazy designs on these gaiters!

So I’m officially half way into my training plan.  I’ve learned SO much but am sure there’s still a lot more lessons to come along the way.  I love exploring this new territory and learning the ropes, and am so thankful for the runners I’ve met who have shared their secrets to success with me.

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