Running through the canyons – Nailed it, failed it
|June 11, 2021||Posted by Melinda under Uncategorized|
Why hello there. You are…purple. You didn’t look purple in your picture, you looked dark blue.
Hey. I know it’s early in our relationship and all, but do you want to run 100 miles with me?
The thing is, I have a 100 miler in 7 weeks and the old model has no-showed and I’m kind of in a bind.
I know a lot of people would start you out nice and slow. A candy run through the neighborhood. A few light trail miles to get acquainted.
But you seem like a good sort. I walked all the way to the swag table….and back to the car…and back to the start line…so how do you feel about running away together for 50k of hot mountain miles on my favorite trail?
During Memorial Day weekend a friend made it possible for me to run a day at the Western States Training Camp. It was the section from Robinson Flat to Foresthill, which contains the section called “the canyons.”
It’s a section I’ve done a handful of times on horse back (which means on foot, since getting through the canyons at Tevis is a cooperative agreement between me and Farley) and I love it. I love the ruggedness, the views, the heat, the snakes, the flowers, the bridges, the challenge, the history…all of it.
This was not the training I needed for Burning River in July, but I couldn’t resist. I also knew that I was not ideally trained for a run in the canyons, since I had been focusing on training that would get me through Burning river – flat, hot, runnable miles.
So, armed with new shoes and a recent history of a lot of asphalt, flat, hot runs, I boarded the bus to Robinson Flat.
As I sailed through the first downhill 14 miles I had visions of the fluffy post I would be writing about this event. Maybe some sort of picture post cards between me and Farley. “Miss you!” “I don’t! Enjoy the canyons!” sort of thing.
That was before I ran out of water climbing up to Devil’s thumb.
And then had to fix the bonk that inevitable occurs when that happens because THAT causes you get behind on elites and calories. Once you DO have water, you have to play catch up which is hard.
Gone is the cute little postcard post, and onward with the Nailed it, Failed it post.
The Bonk Laboratory
I couldn’t have designed a better set of circumstances for reviewing the principles of fixing a bonk. Which is always good to review since energy and hydration strategies change over time. Fixing a bonk has a lot to do with food and electrolytes so the protocol also has to change over time.
I ran out of water going up Devil’s thumb. I wasn’t the only one. I was carrying 3 water bottles and on most days that would have been fine blah blah blah but early season heat blah blah blah.
I also ran out of water before Michigan Bluff and Foresthill – but those were more minor. It was less “running out,” and more “finished all my water before the aid station.”
The point being that running out of water meant that I had to reduce my electrolyte intake, which also affects how much food I can eat because when my hydration and electrolytes are off, I can’t just keep stuffing food down your gullet. (In a temporary disruption of water, my calories drop to about half of target).
I’m pretty good at preventing bonks so being forced into a bonk was excellent practice.
Drink drink drink.
Take a handful of electrolytes. More than I think I need.
Eat a spring energy gel, preferably one with caffeine, and something in the 200-250 calorie range.
The spring energy gels and the huma gels are the only ones I can eat that don’t upset my GI. I’ve not been using them much since discovering how to make food in my kitchen that I can pack in my vest, but I always throw a few in my pocket “just in case.”
I’m so glad I did.
It turns out that even though my running food is DA BOMB, I really need the concentrated calories with no chewing to fix a major bonk. When none of my food sounded good (huge red flag), the 250 speed nut spring energy gel was perfect. Later for a more minor bonk a few hours later I used a 100 calorie huma, but for a bonk where I know I’ve gotten behind on energy replacement, the higher calorie works better. Otherwise I’m chasing the calories –> 100 calories gets me through the next 20-30 minutes but doesn’t help me catch up and get back on track. I have to eat again almost right away and that isn’t helpful when you are fixing a bonk.
Bottom line: my bonk protocol still works and I have the right tools to get it done.
No NSAID, just a sh*t ton of electrolytes
I deliberately didn’t take any ibuprofen with me for this run. It’s 32 miles. It’s really not that far. The 19 mile point is a constant struggle point for me, but I wanted to take NSAIDs off the table as an option and see what I could figure out.
At the beginning of the run, like always, I was in denial about how many electrolytes I needed to take. It just seems like so much. Handfuls of those white capsules every hour. Really? Let’s just be in complete denial that this is a proven fact of my metabolism by now.
Like always, I didn’t take any for the first couple of hours. It’s a beautiful morning! Cool and pleasant! I barely feel like I’m doing anything! Simple is best!
Like always, a half marathon into my run I felt the tell-tale signs of electrolyte deficiency.
Like always, I said “oh crap” and took a handful and “caught up” and vowed to stay on top of it with regular intervals for the rest of the race.
Like always, around mile 15-19 my feet started to get sore and my lower body started to get achy, especially my feet.
Now, most of the time, this is where I struggle. It’s so predictable that I even have a script that tell myself every single time. I remind myself that nothing in the race feels worse than this point. Mile 19 is a particular combo of self doubt and the start of the physical discomfort. It’s so early in the race and I always panic, thinking “how the hell am I going to finish this thing if I’m already this sore?” I throw a little hissy fit, eat some food, repeat my script that nothing has ever felt worse than this point, and then give up and take an NSAID, feel better, and go on with the race, while feeling a little sulky that no matter how much I train, 19-20 miles is always hard and never gets better and it’s not fair.
Ummmm……turns out that maybe all that 19 mile drama that I have not been able to problem solve for the last 20 years might just be me needing a lot more electrolytes, especially if my protocol is “denial for 10 miles that I need them.”
This is not the first time that my first assumption about a problem has been “it’s just because you are a chubby little couch potato and it’s because you don’t really belong out here. So just suck it up buttercup and take your licking.” It took me 10 years to figure out that my calf pain during and after endurance rides was actually muscle cramping due to electrolyte deficiency and not “I just need to do more weight training that involve my calves and to be more fit.” Never mind that I ran marathons at the time and everyone else around me that was less fit seemed to be able to walk just fine after riding 50 miles on their horses.
When the familiar achiness in my feet set in on this run, it was also accompanied by a sleepiness that I’ve come to associate with a combination of lack of food energy and electrolytes. Normally I would have gone through my bonk fix and also taken NSAIDs. But all I had was electrolytes and you use the tools you have. So, I started shoveling electrolytes into my mouth. More than I’ve ever taken before.
The sleepiness went away…..BUT ALSO My feet stopped aching, as if I had taken an NSAID.
It was pure f*cking magic.
I repeated this experiment four more times.
Feet ached, felt like I needed an NSAID, grabbed a handful of electrolytes, 10 minutes later I’m running like a *gazelle.
*Not a fast gazelle, but everything comparative once you hit the double digits of an ultra right?
My race food
Turns out that the Health Department in the jurisdiction of Burning River doesn’t allow anyone, including races, to serve prepared food that is not in it’s original wrapper, without being licensed and inspected.
You can’t cut up a watermelon. You can’t cut a banana in half (but you can give someone a whole banana in the peel). You can’t dump M&M’s out of a wrapper and put them in a cup.
The chances of a hot meal after the sun goes down is very very low.
This really sucks.
My whole food strategy is to eat my own food during the day (my GI tract really doesn’t do well with the candy and snack foods served at most aid stations during the day) and survive until the aid stations start serving hot food after the sun goes down.
The good news is that I’ve been focusing on having the most delicious 5 star foods EVER that I can nom nom for 30 hours of running. I bought the Portables FeedZone cook book and used those recipes as a jumping off point (which is what this book is best for IMO. Technique ideas and flavor combos that you then customize to your own tastes). The 50+ miles I ran at the Loco Race this spring went well using this fueling system, but I knew that a technical hot run in the summer would give me the confidence that I was on the right track.
Most of what I brought worked really well. I used some favorites from Loco and some new recipes I’ve been testing at home. I found a few A+ new favorites to add to the list (beet and molasses waffles!) and I’m cautiously optimistic that this is all going to work.
With the new information about Burning River’s food challenges, I’m currently planning larger meal like food options for my drop bags to compliment the small bite options I carry in my vest.
In all, my goal was to get Foresthill and still be able to run….and I did! Even better, even though it wasn’t the best terrain for Burning River training miles, the food and bonk lab are going to be very applicable and made this run well worth my time and the miles on my feet.
Ran out of water. Multiple times
Should have brought a water filter for the multiple springs. I didn’t. It was a supported run and so I brought extra bottles to carry water out of aid stations for the longer stretches. It wasn’t enough.
At least I wasn’t the only one.
And at least it set me up nicely to conduct my very own experiment in bonks.
Should have worn gaiters
I have a tendency to return to the most simple way of doing things. I really have to prove to my brain over and over (and over and over and over) that a piece of equipment or a routine is really worth the added mental effort or time to do.
Gaiters . I didn’t wear them. I probably should have. Was it a disaster that I didn’t? Nope. No harm done. But, I’ve worn gaiters enough times to realize that my feet would have been less dirty and tired feeling if I had, I wouldn’t have had to stop to tighten up the knots on my shoe laces, and a few small pieces of debris that I ignored wouldn’t have gotten in my shoes in the first place. Gaiters are worth the effort.
I sort of stopped refueling for the last hour of the race. Oops
For my last Failed It point I thought about talking about how I wished my shorts were more compressive. Or maybe the fact that I only got about 4 hours of sleep before this race and I could really tell it affected me.
And then I realized that no, there was something else you really screwed up that was way more major than a wardrobe option or the choice to go to bed after midnight the night before.
I did that thing where I let my tired brain convince my I-know-better brain that the finish line was *right around the corner* and I could totally stop eating now and just enjoy the finish line dinner that was waiting for me.
This is exactly the shenanigans that I tried to pull at the end of Rio 100 mile 2019 that my pacer Cyd refused to allow.
The Foresthill check for the runners is further out than the horse check, something I actually do know….but chose not to remember when I saw Bath road. I ALMOST THERE AND EATING AND ELECTROLYTES ARE STUPID. HERE I COME.
No no no no.
Bad idea Melinda.
The fueling plan continues until you cross over the damn finish line. If you are actually stepping foot over the finish line when it’s time to refuel and someone hands you plate of food….then you can skip the calories from your vest. You cannot (CANNOT) just run the last hour of a race on positive energy.
For that decision I got to deal with muscle cramps, sore muscles, and a *recovery that took a lot longer the following week which meant less miles…which is not ideal at this golden time before a 100 mile.
*Probably compounded by the bonking and struggling to balance elytes earlier in the run. But it certainly didn’t help.
This is my stern reminder to future-Mel who reads this post as prep for future 100’s. STOP MAKING BAD DECISIONS IN THE LAST HOUR OF THE RACE. It’s ain’t over ’til it’s over.