I guess I could be called an ultra runner, I’ve run a few 50ks. That’s an ultra, right? That seemed long enough for me, anyway.
Just a month ago, in late September, I received a message from teammate Alex ‘Axel’ Nichols wondering what other Team Colorado members might be interested in running a 75k race in Millau, France (a region famous for its Roquefort cheese) called Les Templiers. There were already some seasoned ultra runners going, like teammates Hillary ‘HillyGoat’ Allen and Jared ‘The Youngster’ Hazen. A few Americans that had been planning to race wouldn’t be attending and they needed someone to fill the US team.
I had just returned from a trip in the English countryside and Wales after the World Masters Mountain Running Championships, including a pub tour of the Lake District, and was feeling rundown from all the travel and excitement (I’m never run down from the beer, though). I didn’t mention it to anyone at first, but thought I might be a possible candidate for the team, despite the fact I’ve never actually raced over 50k. The self-questioning started… ‘Surely I could make it through 45 miles,’ I thought. ‘It’s not too much longer and I’d be running slower.’
*Pondering Thought* Hmmmmm, slower but longer, is that an equal trade off?
Maybe I should have just kept those thoughts to myself because a week later I was invited to participate by our gracious Festival Des Templiers host, Odile: ‘Vous êtes invitied à participer à Les Templiers vous américain fou.’ Or something to that effect. I’m sure she called me crazy somewhere in those lines.
*Regretful Thought* What the hell was I thinking!?
Thus it begun, a crash course in ultra running.
Week 1 -I’ll just increase my miles, get fit and be ready in a few weeks, shouldn’t be that difficult. After three days of longer runs, however, I was finding myself exhausted from the training that was supposed to get me ready for the race. Catch 22.
*Specific Thought* Four weeks to train for a 45 mile ultra… what have I agreed too!?
I began to pick past participant’s brains about the course, their thoughts, suggestions, if there would be cheese and beer at the aid stations (there actually is, oh my!) and tried to get myself less nervous. Last year, the Team Colorado men Axel, Sage ‘The Rage’ Canaday and Zach ‘Banana Boy’ Miller took places 3rd, 4th, 5th and upset the extremely strong French team, along with the rest of the world, to win the team competition. I decided to just follow Axel and the Youngster’s training plans and invited myself to all of their workouts. They know what they’re doing.
Me: ‘I don’t think four weeks is enough time to properly prepare for a race this long.’
Axel: ‘It’s plenty of time.’
Me: ‘If you say so.’
Long Run #1 – A very mountainous 21-mile run up to the 11,300ft Mt. Rosa with Axel, where the views westward of the Front Range displayed the turning golden leaves of the Aspens, reservoirs and the old mining town of Cripple Creek. I was really enjoying the views when Axel says, ‘OK, we have to run down now.’ Right, I forgot about that part.
*Mile-18 Thought* My legs feel like they are going to explode and I should have brought more water
I made it to the end but the only thing I was able to do was double over and moan afterwards. The race will be like that, only 24 additional miles. That’s all. After a week I began to get into the ultra mindset, wondering how long I could hold a plank for, seeing how many calories I could get down in an aid station scenario and generally seeing how much pain I could tolerate.
Day 9 -I was told by my dentist that I had a filling that was chipped and had to come back in to get it fixed up. I returned a few days later and sat in the reclining chair with my shades on to deflect any flying tooth particles and prevent me from going blind from the overhead bat signal shining directly into my eyes. The dentist began to explain the process, but I cut him off, ‘wait…no Novocain doc, I am training for an ultra!’ Well, that was a stupid idea.
Day 15 -6,300 vertical feet of gain in a matter of 10 miles. Yes, that is a lot, especially when you are the one doing it. I learned quickly that I suck at power hiking, and the runs we were doing definitely involved it. I’d rather run everything, if I had a choice, but that is probably not reasonable on a 35% grade after 40 miles of racing. I would get frustrated when I was comfortably running alongside Axel, then we would hit a very steep section where he would (literally) walk away from me. Then I remembered, he is one of the world’s top ultra runners this year and that comforted me a bit. ‘I’ll just try to catch up on a less steep section, don’t worry about me,’ I said internally because I didn’t have the breath to do it out loud.
Day 16 -I wake up in the morning and lightly prod my quads. They feel intact, I didn’t have any midnight cramping or convulsions, but the day after is never as bad as the second day after! I’ll have to wait until tomorrow to tell you how I feel.
Day 17 – Ouch! Yes, now I feel it. Axel and I planned on doing a speed workout today. How am I going to do that, I can barely walk!? And then I did the workout… somehow.
I can start to tell I’m getting into good shape, my wedding ring flies off my finger across the room, my skinny jeans start to look baggy on me and I’m starting to see some semblance of definition in my legs that I say to myself, ‘I didn’t know I had muscles there.’
*Random Thought* You know that feeling when you are running recklessly down a mountain, but rather than one minute, it’s for an hour? Yeah, that feeling
I ran a few short, local races during those four weeks to help get some speed work in. The Pikes Peak Road Runners Fall Series involves creek crossings, rope climbs, log hurdles, beehive obstacles (unplanned) and even a mile-long stretch of running up a creek. Another race, the Mine to Mine Challenge 9K started with a downhill mile on pavement, which I split in 4:46 and took home $200 in gold nuggets for 2nd place. Speed work complete! I’d be set if Les Templiers was 45 minutes rather than 45 miles.
*Scary Thought* I’m not so much worried about the distance, but rather the amount of time it will take to complete it. Running a race for longer than I sleep sounds like a nightmare
Long Run #3 – A solo 31-mile run due to a scheduling conflict. A long five hours with my thoughts, over some of the best trails in the world with so many numerous different vantage points of the majestic Pikes Peak. I bumped into half a dozen of the local runners and friends, which helped to pass the time.
*Desperate Thought* If it wasn’t for my legs screaming at me, I couldn’t think of a better way to spend 5 hours of my life. Beer aid stations would complete this experience
With all the worrying and dreading I have been doing about struggling through many hours of pain over many miles, I went to visit our friend Amy in the hospital after 16 hours of labor and the birth of her first child and changed my tune. THAT’S a long time! There is not much training you can do for that and she got through it successfully. I can, too.
*Birth Thought* Man, I really hope I don’t poop my pants during the ultra
I didn’t consider the taper week in this month of ultra training, so really I only had three weeks of full-on training. I was skeptical about what could be accomplished in such a short period of time, but after capping off a 100-mile week, I think some taper is in order. So, if nothing else, it was a big adventure filled with hard efforts, good friends, as much food as a royal court, liquid carbs and amazing photos. Oh, and a trip to the beautiful French countryside. As we touch down in France, I feel very skinny and in need of calories.