7 Tips for Running Your First Ultra

So you’ve run 26.2 miles and you’re all like “OMG, marathoning is SO 1976. I want to go BIGGER!” Now you’re stuffing your face with a leftover turkey sandwich, listening to Ultrarunner Podcast, reading Hal Koerner’s Field Guide to Ultrarunning and trying to figure out what to do with your life. Lucky you! Today we are going to cover 7 tips for running your first Ultra.

  1. Choose an “Easy” Ultra

I know what you’re thinking: “You’re out of your mind if you think anything beyond 26.2 sounds easy!” But take it from me, there are easy ultramarathons and there are hard ultramarathons. A prime local example would be Defiance 50K v.s. Orcas island 50K. The trails themselves may look similar, but Orcas Island 50K features a staggering elevation change of 17,000 feet while Defiance 50K features 6,000 feet of change. This can mean a difference of one to two or even three hours on your feet, depending on skill level. For your first rodeo, I suggest you go “flat”.

  1. Start Small

If you can curb your enthusiasm, try not to jump from 26.2 to 100 miles. You’ve got a lifetime of running ahead of you if you do things right and you don’t want to end up side lined. If it’s something you’re interested in, start with a 50K and work your way up slowly. There is no sense risking a DNF by choosing a mountainous 100 Miler as your first Ultra. Ultrarunning takes an immense amount of endurance, focus and mental tenacity, not to mention the time and patience it takes to properly train for one. Those demands will only increase as the distance goes up.

  1. Prepare

Apart from increasing your training volume and altering your tactics, you need to be in constant practice with your gear; what we call a dress rehearsal. The smallest problem, like the wrong socks, can become a HUGE issue when you’re out on your feet all day in questionable weather. What shoes will you wear? What socks ? Shorts or tights? Glide or Squirrel’s Nut Butter? Do you need a jacket? Gloves? A headlamp? A hydration pack ? Gels? Solid Food? The list goes on, but you need to make a check list and regularly run in the gear you will use come race day to make sure you are as comfortable and prepared as possible.

  1. Don’t Race

Unless you’re Sage Canaday or Jim Walmsley, it’s best not to “race” your first ultra. Even with the 50K being simply a poorly measured marathon with hills, it presents many challenges that you won’t experience in the standard road marathon: mud, rocks, roots, stream crossings, mountainous climbs and adverse weather conditions, just to name a few. When you toe the line at your first Ultra, go out with one goal in mind: to finish.

  1. Don’t Give Up

Unlike the standard marathon, you will hit many walls, even in the 50K distance. Depending on the Ultra you choose, you will be out on your feet somewhere between 4 and 30 hours (30 hours if you’re ignoring tip #2). You will feel depleted, energized and then depleted again, many times over. It’s important to remember something my mom would always tell me growing up: “This too shall pass”. Like most things, it won’t be gone forever, but as you move through it you will feel new again, your legs will come back, and you will feel an inexplicable sense of strength. It’s impossible to describe this feeling, but be careful, the low may be back again before you finish.

  1. Have Fun

Remember: This isn’t a race! The Ultrarunning community is unlike any other. Are we impressed with CRs and FKTs? Yes! Do we really give a shit who finishes in 1st or 400th place ? No! We will pick you up if you fall down and we will sacrifice our own race time to help you finish if that means walking you in. We are all out on the trails to experience wild and scenic areas together; to connect with the land as well as with each other. When things get tough just smile, strike up a conversation with your new friend, and keep moving forward.

  1. Be proud

After the 900th person says “50 miles? I don’t even like to drive that far!” You might feel slightly annoyed, but hey! 50 miles is a long drive! And you just ran it. Revel in your accomplishment! You’ve just done something very few people on this planet will do. That’s something to be proud of.

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Josh Myers-Dean finishing Bigfoot 100K  PC: Howie Stern

 

What Running Shoes Should I Wear?

This is probably the most common question people ask me when they’re getting into running or a fitness focused lifestyle in general and it doesn’t surprise me! All you have to do is google “running shoes” and you will be presented with so many options, theories, and articles that you might not even know where to start!

I could go on and on getting into the nitty gritty about shoes, but today we are just going to cover shoe types and categories with some recommendations to get you on your way to making an informed shoe choice. 

There are 4 basic categories of shoes with many sub categories, but here are the basics:

Road – These shoes are meant for concrete and pavement. They often offer substantial cushioning and a number of features such as sticky rubber for wet conditions and reflective overlays for visibility, just to name a few.

Racing/Flats – These are often low profile, lightweight road shoes meant for distances up to 13.1 and even 26.2 for faster runners. They lack bells, whistles and traditional “support” and are often the road racer’s go to for speed work and road events.

Track – Spikes and flats for the Track and Field athletes including Cross Country.

Trail – There are so many different kinds trails out there that we here at ULDT find a lot of value in having a quiver of trail shoes. Trail shoes often have some sort of lug on the outsole for extra grip as well as a thin, flexible piece of plastic in the forefoot (called a rock plate) to protect your feet from sharp rocks. Some trail shoes are best suited for mixed road/trail environments, some are best suited for hard packed trail, some for soft, wet, muddy conditions and there are some that do better on slick rock and alpine/sub alpine environments. I can have one or two pairs of road shoes that I put the majority of my mileage on, but I generally have at least 3 – 4 different pairs of trail shoes to choose from based on terrain.

Corrective features:

There is a lack of scientific data proving the validity of claims that motion control and stability features in running shoes prevent injury, nevertheless, the shoe industry continues to use the terminology as a selling point to consumers. You may have heard the phrase “pronator” as if it’s a bad thing, but the fact is that everyone pronates to some degree. It’s your body’s way of absorbing shock as the arch flattens and the foot rolls inward. Everyone supinates to some degree as well. It’s how your foot lands initially and how it  pushes off through the gait cycle. 

Ultimately it’s up to you to do the research and decide for yourself if you think over pronation and under pronation causes injury, whether or not corrective features in running shoes provide any protection against injury, and whether or not they to work for you. We certainly won’t argue with your findings, because what works for you is what you should do!

Here are the classic corrective features found in running shoes and their claimed benefits:

Neutral Cushioned – For “Supinators” or “under pronators”  who have high arches and land in a more supinated position, lacking an inward roll. They are said to benefit from extra cushioning and curved last (shape of the shoe) to encourage the proper amount of pronation.

Stability/Support  – For people who pronate, but don’t severely over pronate. These shoes feature denser materials on the medial side of the midsole to control the inward roll of the foot and are said to provide support to the collapsing arch and prevent injury.

Motion Control – These shoes are for “severe over pronators”and feature dense medial midsole materials, shanks or even posts within the midsole and often times have heel stability features to keep your foot even more stabilized. 

New (ish) categories:

Maximal – Usually neutral with a maximum amount of cushioning. You can find these in most major brand’s line ups, but Hoka One One started the trend. Proponents believe that the extra cushioning disperses impact forces, delaying fatigue and preventing injury.

Minimal – We saw the rise and fall of the minimalist movement after the best seller “Born To Run” touted the benefits of barefoot running. Proponents believed that running “naturally” in barefoot type shoes prevents injury and reduces impact forces. When the pendulum swung back towards maximal cushion, we were left with some really great options in the middle-of-the-road shoes that can be attributed to the minimal movement such as extremely lightweight shoes with seamless uppers, low heel to toe drops or Zero drop and many shoe companies offering “natural movement” in their line ups.

Guidance – This terminology has seemingly replaced some of the motion control/support verbiage in the footwear industry, but claims added support and structure to help guide foot, albeit gentler than theclassic rigidity of support or motion control shoes.

I checked in with Phil Kochick, Owner of Seven Hills Run Shop in Seattle, to get his thoughts on footwear and the fit process. This is what he had to say :

“I believe today’s fitting process should be steered more by the customer and less by the shop employee.  Five years ago it was standard for running shops to tell you what the “right shoe” would be.  Now it is apparent that whatever shoe feels most natural to someone has the best chance of success.  

It’s not about pronation and supination anymore; it’s about comfort.  Where 5-10 years ago most consumers thought “stability” or “control” couldn’t possibly be a bad thing, the industry has shied away from those terms in favor of “guidance” and “natural motion.” There was a lot of marketing behind the need to correct pronation; and not much science.”

I’m on board with Phil. There doesn’t seem to be much legitimate scientific backing behind the industry standards for different foot types and subsequent footwear recommendations made by retail sales associates – it seems to be a sales gimmick.

Our advice ? Go to a local store where knowledgeable and experienced runners work. Have them take a look at the shape of your foot to match you with lasts that might work for you and try on as many shoes as you can. Pick the pair that feels good to you. You should have a little room between your longest toe and the end of the shoe and it should feel like an extension of your own foot without any points of pressure or discomfort.  You should think “Wow! I could wear these all day!”

You’ll know when you slip the perfect pair on.

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Adam Lint helping fit a customer at Seven Hills Running in Seattle

Thanks for reading! If you have any questions abut this blog post or anything else or if you’re looking for a personal running coach, shoot me message.

Taking A Wrong Turn During A Trail Race

You’ve spent months preparing for this race. Early morning runs in the pouring rain, dimly lit by dying headlamps and yellow street lights. Uncomfortable evening runs with your sloppy joes still sloshing around in your stomach. Speed workouts you were sure would induce asthma or, at the very least, make a mess of your shorts.

You’re fit. You’re healthy. You’re fast! You’re cruising! And now you’ve taken a wrong turn …

This recently happened to me at Defiance 50K. I came to a confusing intersection and made a wrong turn, adding 1-2 miles to my run when I was on pace for a PR. Talk about frustrating! This particular course has a reputation for being poorly marked, but admittedly, I’m horrible at following course directions and maps, so this isn’t the first time I’ve done this. The most memorable of my wrong turn fiascos was at the McDowell Mountain Frenzy 50 miler in 2013. I had run the course the previous year and thought I knew the intersections, however, I got caught up in good conversation with a friend of mine and we somehow got 4+ miles off course, not knowing until we saw a suspicious cow staring blankly at us in the middle of the Sonoran desert with no signs of an organized event anywhere to be seen. By the time we got back to the finish we had added 9 miles. We would’ve gone 1 and 2 had we not made that error, but instead we got a DNF.

So, what do you do when this happens? How do you stay happy and enjoy your day instead of cursing the Gods and burning the forest down ? Here are a few tips:

  • Stay calm. If you’re in the mountains it’s easy to think “what if ?” and subsequently let that grow into an imaginary nightmare where you’re lost in the mountains for days, chasing chipmunks, and surviving off of tree bark (I do this occasionally with normal life events, it’s called catastrophizing). This won’t do you any good, so check yourself! You’re most likely not going to die.
  • Try to get on track. If you’re on a mountainous course it can feel daunting, and yes, staying safe should be your number one concern, which entails getting back on course. When was the last time you saw a course marker? How many turns have you made? Backtrack. Retrace your steps. At most organized events, this should be fairly easy to do, so don’t panic.
  • Assess the situation. 99% of the time you will eventually get back on course. If you’re so lost that you don’t know where you are and can’t find your way back, then that’s a whole different can of worms possibly involving Search and Rescue and back country survival skills that we may address in a later post. If you’ve only added a mile or two on a non-remote course, like I did at Defiance 50K, then maybe you’ll find value in getting back on track and finishing, but if you’ve gone so far off course that you’re risking turning your 50 Miler into a 100K that you’re not ready for, it may be best to pull the plug; that’s ultimately up to you. Just be sure to let the volunteers know you’re dropping if you decide to do so.
  • Be kind. I’ve seen a number of runners become seriously angry at the RD, the volunteers, the tax rates, the air… don’t get me wrong – I’ve been there, but these things happen and you shouldn’t be snappy with people or look for someone to blame. Just accept the fact that your day didn’t go as planned and enjoy the ride! 
  • Be mindful. If you’re having trouble cooling down, try to bring your thoughts to center. Focus on the sound of each foot step against the ground or the color of the leaves around you or how the wind feels against your face; you’ll never see or feel these things exactly this way again and the light will never hit the forest this way again. You’re seeing all of this for the first and last time. Isn’t that amazing? This technique may sounds airy fairy, but it can be instrumental in high stress situations.
  • Focus on what’s next. Remember that it’s just running; missing a turn sucks, but it’s not the end of the world! There are hundreds of races out there and you can usually turn this unfortunate turn of events into a beneficial training run to build fitness and confidence for your next adventure.

I hope some of these suggestions help you if you happen to miss a turn at some point in your running career. Please feel free share your advice and experience in the comments section, and as always, if you’re interested in a personal coach or custom training plan, contact me here.
Happy training !

Top 7 Trail Races In Washington

This was going to be a top 5 list, but because our friends over at Seven Hills Run Shop are so awesome, we’ve changed it to a top 7 list. The following events are what we would consider the top 7 trail races in Washington State (currently). I’ve run 3 of them, while the others are included because of their deep fields, beautiful scenery and great reputations in the community.

1. First on our list we have Orcas Island 50K. This was the first organized race I ran and I will do my best to be on that island every year until I die regardless of if I’m racing, volunteering or just hanging out with friends. It’s the most “PNW” race I’ve ever experienced: winding your way from sea to the summit of Mt. Constitution through old growth forest on squishy single track, surrounded by bright green moss and near untouched flora with a staggering elevation gain of 8,500 feet – it’s just as breathtaking as it is challenging. It’s so popular that Rainshadow Running has to do a lottery now, but if you’re going to run an Ultra, this should be your first choice. There’s also a 25K the weekend prior for you short distance aficionados. This race feels like home.

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Photo by Glenn Tachiyama

2. Second we have the White River 50 Miler. This was once one of the most competitive 50 Milers in the country and is still the most competitive in Washington State; offering prize money to the top 3 finishers. The entire race features views of the ominous Mount Rainier as you make your way through dense forest, over ridge lines and up and down the perfect mix of technical terrain and buttery smooth singletrack. The 50 Mile course features 8,700 feet of climb and descent and will leave you sore for days (or even weeks) following the race.

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Photo by Glenn Tachiyama

3. The Guerilla Running Hillbilly Half Marathon in Capitol Forest is a local favorite and has been part of the La Sportiva Mountain Cup in the past. The start is located off of highway 101 just outside of Olympia. The RDs, who happen to be good friends of mine, call it “One of the most challenging half marathons in the State of Washington.” The weather is usually nasty, there are deep puddles, lots of mud and the forest is dense. It’s almost always guaranteed to be a mud bath, just watch out for stray bullets – the reason my workouts are always so fast out there.

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4. Chuckanut 50K is arguably one of the most competitive 50K’s in the country and always has a stacked field and sizable prize purse (for trail running, anyways). Going on it’s 25th running, it’s also got rich history. I’ve never run this race personally, but almost all of my friends have and say it’s a fantastic course and we sure do love those Fairhaven Runners! With 20k of the distance on Bellinghams’s  flat interurban trail and 5,000 feet of climb and descent on trail in the middle, this course will test your skills in every kind of running possible.

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Photo Courtesy of Elisa Laverty

5. Chuckanut Mountain Marathon Championships – For those of you wanting some of the same trails in the same area as the the Chuckanut 50K, this race is a little more low key, but just as beautiful and brutal. With 4,500 feet of climbing, it’s not your average marathon. It’s the championship race for the the Bellingham Trail Series and is run pretty much solely on single track through beautiful PNW forest on Chuckanut Mountain. Rock Trail is steep as all hell and Ridge Trail is super techy, while most of the rest of the course is buttery smooth. There is also a free kids race for those of you who love to involve the family in these events. 

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6. Cutthroat Classic. I’ll be honest, I had never heard of this race until I asked about top races on Twitter, but Maxwell Ferguson said “A list of best trail races has to include Cutthroat. It is literally: a classic.” So here it is. It is an 11 mile run in the North Cascades starting at at Rainy Pass and climbing over Cutthroat Pass to Cutthroat lake with over 2,000 feet of gain. From what I’ve heard, it’s gnarly and beautiful and it sells out every year.

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Photo courtesy of Justin Huff by Patricia Leigh

7. Finally we have the big guns: The Cascade Crest 100. I have yet to run a 100 miler, but all my friends tell me this is the place to start. This clockwise loop course, starting in Easton, WA was founded in 1999 and is one of the most well known 100 Milers in the country. It gains 22,250 feet over 100 miles and passes through both Wenatchee and Snoqualmie-Baker National Forests including 30 miles on the PCT.  It’s a hell of a course, just check out the runners manual! You must have completed a qualifying 50 Mile or any 100 Miler and you must do 8 hours of trail work to run. With classic PNW views, big climbs and the real possibility of hallucinations due to exhaustion and sleep deprivation, I’ve been told it’s a must do.

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Photo courtesy of Sean Olson by Glenn Tachiyama

So there you have it! I suggest you get out and experience some of the wonderful landscape, beautiful scenery, challenging courses and vibrant trail running community we are so fortunate to have here in Washington State.

And remember, we can help get you to any one of these start lines fit and healthy. Just drop us a line if you have any questions.

Cheers!