Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Cheyenne Mountain 50k, or How To Finish An Ultra For Which You Are Completely Unprepared

Those of you who read this blog regularly may have noticed that since HURT, I've posted remarkably little about my own training. That's because... well... I've been doing remarkably little about my own training. So when I heard about the Cheyenne Mountain 50k, I figured signing up for it would be a great way to force myself to get some long miles in. To "prepare" for the race (and that word is in quotes for a reason -- this hardly counts as preparation!) I did a very hilly 20-mile loop with Gus about a week ago. Other than that, the only 20+ mile run I've gotten in since HURT was the 34k I ran on my birthday, at the beginning of March.

But I've got to get myself in gear for the Bighorn Wild & Scenic Trail Run, the 50-miler I'm doing mid-June, and so I thought getting out there for this 50k was a good way to launch a six-week training blitz. As it turned out, I had a lot of fun, and getting through this 50k helped me to feel more motivated about my running. I'm now looking forward to training for Bighorn over the next few weeks in a way that I wasn't before yesterday.

So, I hereby present (instead of a usual "race report") my five-step "Guide To Finishing An Ultra For Which You Are Completely Unprepared." Again -- I don't exactly recommend running an ultra for which you haven't trained, but if you find yourself in the position I was in, these tips could prove useful to you, and help you come out of the race more motivated than you entered it.

1) Choose a scenic course. This is an important one. You may already suffer along the way if you attempt a long race you haven't trained for, but you will truly suffer if your time on the trail is not enhanced by any scenic distractions. The Cheyenne Mountain course was beautiful, with good mountain views, and except for some flat "high prairie"-ish sections, fairly forested too. Along the trail, especially on the second loop when runners were more spread out, I saw a lot of deer. The off-and-on snowfall added to the beauty of the course as well.

2) Do not go out too fast. Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind is to "run your own race" and not go out too fast. Many runners will pass you, especially in the first 7 or 8 miles. Do not try to keep up with them! They are going faster than you because:
a) They actually trained for this race and are capable of sustaining the pace they're running; or
b) They are ultra-newbies who don't know how to pace themselves, and will soon crash and burn.
But you did not train for this, and you are not here to crash and burn! You're here to log some miles in a beautiful place. Keep telling yourself that, relax, and enjoy the trail. If you really feel the need to sprint, you can do that in the last three miles.

3) Eat and drink enough. You will need to stay fueled to cover the distance, and since you haven't been training much, your body will not be as accustomed to eating on the run. Your body may rebel at some point and force you off the trail to (ahem) lose a pound or two. But fear not! Continue to take in calories and you will be ok. This means you need to eat your usual trail fare (for me, GU and almond-butter saltine sandwiches) but in addition, if a race volunteer offers you a PBJ, take it. If two race volunteers each offer you PBJs, take two. You need the calories to keep moving forward. And that's all this "race" is about: continuously moving forward and logging miles on the trail.

4) Enjoy the camaraderie of other runners. On a course like this one, with a couple of "lollipop" sections, you will see other runners on the trail as your paths cross. Cheer them on! It will help them, and make you feel good too. It's also ideal if someone you know decides to run the 25k while you run the 50k, and you can share some conversation over a few miles. Lucky for me, this happened around mile 10 when runner / rafter / skier / snowshoer / biker / all-around awesome multisport guy David Delagarza came up behind me on the trail and we shared some miles. Conversation passes the time, and it's an awesome way to catch up with a friend you haven't seen in a while, too. Thanks, Dave!

5) Thank the race volunteers. Smile at them. Be polite. They're volunteering their time hauling water bottles and making hundreds of PBJs so that you can be out on the trail - how awesome is that?! It will make you feel good, too. One volunteer said I was the happiest runner he'd seen on the course all day. Another volunteer said it made her day when I thanked her & her fellow volunteers for coming out to help with the race. So be nice. It will make you feel good, too.

So there you go - a few tips, take 'em or leave 'em. Again, I don't actually recommend this approach, but I am so happy I went ahead & ran the 50k even though I hadn't prepared for it. The trails were pretty, I got in a long training run, and the camaraderie of all the other runners has made me more motivated to get "back on the horse" and ramp up my training for Bighorn.


See you on the trail!
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