long run

lessons-learned-at-my-first-ultra-marathon

This 44-year-old just ran for more than 31 miles through trails so muddy that moving forward felt more like skating than running, hills steep enough to leave her winded and for so many hours (more than 10) that just about any GPS watch would have died. Just a week after doing the Run Woodstock 50K, I’m still a bit shell shocked but pretty darn proud of myself and my runner friends who took on this challenge.

lachicaruns-mud-vicki

Rain = muddy trails.

Through all of that, I learned a few things. Things that I hope will help anyone new to running longer distances or even someone training for their first ultra marathon:

Trust — and follow — the training plan. I happen to have a one-track mind, so printing off a training plan or putting all of the runs on my calendar and scratching them off helps me stick to the plan for weeks on end. This was probably the most important thing I did to prepare to run such a long distance, just four years after I began running using the Couch to 5K app. I was tired and sore for a few days after the race, but I also recovered quicker than I have for previous 26.2 mile runs.

Run Woodstock map.

Run Woodstock map.

Ultra-marathon aid stations are the bestest. My ultra runner friends pretty much dangled the promise of potato chips, soda and M&Ms as the incentive for us newbies to sign up for the race in the first place. The spread (which also included cheese sandwiches, pretzels, fruit and other yummy food) did not disappoint. This particular race had aid stations every four miles, allowing us to break the 31 miles into more-manageable goals, which makes for a great head-game strategy.

The Run Woodstock utra marathon aid stations served as a huge incentive to keep going.

The Run Woodstock utra marathon aid stations served as a huge incentive to keep going.

The volunteers are even better. Aid station volunteers are more akin to a NASCAR pit crew. They approached us, immediately helping us find just the perfect treat to give us a boost, talking about the course and in one instance, even giving their socks off their feet to a runner who was struggling with blisters.

Charlotte, an experienced long-distance runner, raised our spirits.

Charlotte, an experienced long-distance runner, raised our spirits.

Your body will rebel. Rain and mud can leave one’s feet soaked, meaning a high chance for blisters. Water retention was pretty common, giving several of us the tell-tale sausage fingers. I’m not sure how to address this in the future, but I suspect I need to take in more salt and fluids, both.

Sausage fingers.

Sausage fingers.

The drop bag is better than CatsTo get the full 31 miles, this race had us run the same loop twice, meaning we could have a drop bag at the beginning and also halfway through the loop. I was fortunate enough to have Brandess’ tips for packing a drop bag, so I was prepared. When we found out we could have two bags, we included a fresh pair of trail shoes and socks in the bag halfway through the course, allowing us to switch out shoes for the last five or six miles. My feet and mood were both grateful.

I cut up plastic binder dividers, wrote my information on them with a Sharpie, and tied them to my drop bags so I could find them.

I cut up plastic binder dividers, wrote my information on them with a Sharpie, and tied them to my drop bags so I could find them.

Runner friends will see you through anything. Not only did I get to run with the best runner friends in the universe, but a couple of our friends who didn’t even have a race traveled with us, cheered us on, took lots of pictures and video, and even helped one of us change out of her shoes after our ultra. Yes. Seriously.

Our friend Michelle helps one of our runners change out her shoes after the race. Not pictured is our friend Janet who cheered all of us and recorded the day's events for posterity.

Our friend Michelle helps one of our runners change out her shoes after the race. Not pictured is our friend Janet who cheered us on and captured the day’s events for posterity.

You are stronger than you thought. I may have felt better than I thought I would, but running for more than 10 hours took a toll on my body. I was tired and hungry. I just wanted to take a hot shower, eat all the food and go to bed. But my body did carry me through 31 miles without failing me. Our friend Vicky got hit by a falling branch. Shannon was stung by a couple of bees and picked up an unfortunate case of poison ivy. We saw 100K and 100-mile runners who were barely shuffling along. But we all kept going and met up at the finish line.

My friends Shannon and Vicki finishing the 50K, even after getting hit by a branch, stung by a bee and getting poison ivy.

My friends Shannon and Vicki finishing the 50K, even after getting hit by a branch, stung by a bee and getting poison ivy.

Our friend Corey stuck with Melissa to make sure she finished her first 50K.

Our friend Corey stuck with Melissa to make sure she finished her first 50K.

There’s no miracle recovery cure. I rested a lot the day after the race, but made sure to stretch, use the foam roller and put my legs up the wall. I also drank tons of water and took Aleve on the second day, typically my hardest post-race muscle-pain day. The closest thing to a cure, however, is a sports massage, which inevitably gives me fresh legs. Ahh, relief.

While most of my familia and friends thought I was nuts for attempting my first ultra marathon, the whole event was a huge success. I’m not yet committing to my next one, but I am certainly glad that I got to this one and hope it inspires you to sign up for your first 50K if it wasn’t on your radar before.

What have you learned from running your longest distance? Feel free to share a blog post if you’ve written about this topic before. (Click on “Continue Reading” to leave a comment.)

tips for running your first trail half marathonI ran 13.1 miles through the woods at the Two Hearted Trail Half in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and didn’t die, so I’m now sharing tips on how you, too, can survive — and thrive during — your first trail half.

 

  • Tip #1: Pick your race carefully. Two Hearted was the perfect first race for me. It was well organized, had gorgeous scenery, a well-marked route and made my first experience memorable. I read about this particular race from the Detroit Runner’s race review and it didn’t disappoint.
T-shirt and bib.

Race shirt and bib.

 

Some of the beautiful scenery.

Some of the beautiful scenery.

 

twohearted medal

Two Hearted Trail Half medal.

  • Tip #2: Train properly. Even if you’re an experienced road racer, make sure you put in a lot of trail miles before your first race. I’m fortunate to both have lots of runner friends with extensive trail experience and have a familia that camps, so I have lots of access to places to running trails. One of the best tips my friends gave me was to get used to running on tired legs. That meant a three- to five-mile run most Sunday mornings after Saturday’s long run. It also meant that I was ready for the terrain, even though it was much more difficult than anything I had experienced before.
The course was no joke.

The course was no joke.

 

More of the terrain on the trail.

More of the terrain on the trail.

  • Tip #3: Plan ahead. In addition to training for the type of trails you’ll be experiencing, think ahead about things you may need with you that day. While you don’t need a drop bag like you would for an ultra, I certainly was glad to have many of the necessities I pack in my luggage for my long runs, including bandages for a blister that was forming on my right foot, bug repellent wipes and my favorite Chap Stick. My friend Shannon and I were particularly glad we had bought new Nathan hydration packs for the occasion and we were all glad that we had either sunglasses or a hat on this very sunny day. You’ll also want to know where the race starts and ends so you can make arrangements for meeting up with family and friends. In our case, that was particularly helpful because we didn’t have cell coverage. At all.
I was able to bring my usual long-run items in my hydration pack, including bandages for a foot blister.

I was able to bring my usual long-run items in my hydration pack, including bandages for a foot blister.

  • Tip #4: Bring personal pacers. When I started talking about this trail race, I never imagined that two of my favorite running buddies would sign up to run it with me. It. Was. Awesome. While I know I would have finished by myself, having their company and experience (watch out for that tree stump, here’s how you run/walk through these logs) made the difference between a good experience and a fantastic one. If you don’t have running buddies who are willing to travel six hours to run a race with you, then make friends that morning.
With Shannon and Brandess, whose support was invaluable during my first trail race.

With Shannon and Brandess, whose support was invaluable during my first trail race.

  • Tip #5: Pay attention. The race organizers had very clear instructions both on the race website and in person just before the race about how the trail was marked (with blue flags to our right plus mile markers). There were a couple of spots where we didn’t see the blue flags for a while, but were relieved to see them clearly marking our directions. That said, we kept looking for those little flags because no one wants to get lost in the middle of nowhere, especially with no cell reception.

I hope these tips help you not only survive your first trail half-marathon race experience but make it the best it possibly can be. I certainly am hooked even more than I was before and have a lot more confidence as I look to doing my first trail 50K come September.

If you’re an experienced trail runner, please share your tips in the comments below. And if you’re a runner blogger who’s written about this before, feel free to share your link.

You know you’ve found your running tribe when you suggest you head out at 6:30 on a Saturday morning for a 14-mile run to avoid the heat and half a dozen women show up. Even more joined us later on the Lansing River Trail.

Team Playmakers at the Lansing River Trail rock.

Team Playmakers at the Lansing River Trail rock.

So continues our ultra marathon training, which has us ramping up mileage for the foreseeable future. I plugged in the mileage into my online calendar and am following it throughout the week, but not having a print-out on my fridge means that I don’t look ahead, so every weekend long run is a bit of a surprise.

In light of the day’s hot temperatures, here are some tips for running in the heat:

  1. Start early or go late. With the forecast including temperatures in the 80s, we settled on 6:30 a.m. With 14 miles on deck, however, it wasn’t nearly early enough. We may be meeting up even earlier in the coming weeks. Or go at 8 or 9 at night, when the temperatures are dropping again. Worst case, run on the ‘mill inside.
  2. Hydrate. Because we run with a formal team, we have water stations with Gatorade and ice water every two miles. But our trail runs have left me water-less with miles to go. I just ordered a Nathan water belt and can’t wait to try it out. Some runner friends stash water in hidden spots along their route; others plan to stop by their local convenience store.
  3. Dress appropriately. I have some really cute cotton tanks that I just love, but on days like today, it’s tech fabric from head to toe. The wicking properties make a huge difference in making me feel more comfortable. And I always wear my SmartWool socks to avoid blisters.
  4. Wear sunscreen. Yes, even those of us with dark skin should slather the stuff on. We’re already bound to get weird tan lines; no sense in also getting skin cancer in the process.
  5. Consider bug spray. Warmer temps also mean more bugs and in our case that means mosquitoes. In previous years, I’ve found individually wrapped Off towelettes. Still looking for them this season.
  6. Wear a hat or visor. Those of us with little hair should especially cover our heads (or remember to wear sunscreen), while the rest of us can benefit from a brimmed hat to avoid squinting eyes and burnt noses.
  7. Bring sunglasses. Once again, glasses can provide eye protection and prevent wrinkles. Plus, you’ll look better in your selfies when you’re not squinting into the sun.
  8. Fuel properly. No matter the temperature, your body still needs those calories, electrolytes and salt. Consider also using salt tablets. I just tried some today and couldn’t tell the difference, but I don’t know if I could have survived the hottest part of our run if I hadn’t been fueling and hydrating properly.

The weather here in Michigan is just going to keep getting hotter into July and August, so I’ll be sure to follow my own advice about running in the heat in the weeks to come.

In the meantime, here’s the week’s meal plan (and here’s how I make my meal plan in the first place.):

Did you do a long run today? What are your tips for running in the summer heat? If you’ve written about this topic, feel free to share a link to your post below.

Uff. I barely made it here today, but I chose to take my own advice and use a menu from a previous week.

Today was great, really.

Started out my day with my runner friends, including Jessi, who is also a Skirt Sports ambassador captain so we had to show off our duds.

Skirt power!

Skirt power!

I didn’t have a plan (bad idea), so I ended up running 11 miles with my Team Playmakers pace group, including a newer runner named Jen who was running her first 11 miler. My running mentors Janet and Brandess each helped us reach that goal, but I am beat.

Brandess, who coaches for Team P, was our entertainment at our first (and therefore also last) water station, featuring karaoke and some dance moves I hadn’t seen since 1997.

The always-cheerful Brandess.

The always-cheerful Brandess.

Janet kept Jen and I on task, reminding us to fuel, drink Gatorade and water, and chatting away to distract us. Some pearls of wisdom were handed down, I’m sure, but I was a bit delirious and the memories are vague. (Drama queen, much?)

The weather was great for a Saturday morning long run and Team Playmakers’ up-to-20-mile community run was well-attended with about 300 runners. I am very glad that I got to participate and that I didn’t have to run 20 miles today.

Lots of family stuff going on the rest of the day and I’m now settling down for the night (is it socially acceptable to go to bed at 8:30?), so here’s a menu I shared about a month ago, something I turn to when I don’t have a lot of time but also want to make sure I plan the week’s meals:

  • Burgers on the grill, baked fries, corn
  • Tacos, shredded lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, guacamole, salsa
  • Bowtie pasta, meat sauce, green salad, rolls
  • Enchiladas, shredded lettuce, tomatoes
  • Cranberry chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans

RECIPE (Source: www.workingmom.com):

6 boneless chicken breast halves

1 can (16 oz.) whole-berry cranberry sauce

1 large tart apple, peeled and chopped

1/2 cup raisins

1 tsp. curry powder

Optional: 1/4 cup chopped walnuts

Place chicken in 13-by-9-by-2-inch baking dish coated with spray. Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, combine other ingredients. Spoon over chicken. Bake uncovered, 20-25 minutes.

Did you do your long run today? What do you feed your familia on weeks when you don’t have time to plan ahead very well?

Spent the morning with my runner friends for what I thought would be a four- or five-mile run.

Our usual route is pretty flat with a few small hills, including a pedestrian bridge near Potter Park Zoo.

Our usual route is pretty flat with a few small hills, including a pedestrian bridge near Potter Park Zoo.

We, of course, went out that far, added another mile-and-a-half of hills at the local cemetery and ran back for about 9.5 miles total.

Did I mention there were hills?

Did I mention there were hills?

Thankfully, we also got to go down hills.

Thankfully, we also got to go down hills.

When we got back, my friends insisted on heading up the local sledding hill. Notice I’m not in the pictures I shot from afar.

Because they apparently had not done enough hill work.

Because they apparently had not done enough hill work.

In related news, I’m in search for new running friends.

Despite my best intentions, I’ve not napped yet today but instead am headed out soon to go clothes-shopping with my favorite 16-year-old. I may give her my credit card and take a nap in the car instead.

I did, however, plan out our meals for this coming week. And here’s how I make my meal plan in the first place.

How’s your training going? What’s your goal race? Do your friends “make” you run father than you had planned or rope you into hill work or is it just mine?