There are only 12 days left until I begin one of the biggest physical running challenges of my life. Just to refresh your memory, I am partaking in the Western States 100 mile endurance run, which is taking place on Saturday, June 26th, 2010. I will tow the line with 450 other runners in Squaw Valley, California.
The departure from Vancouver takes place Tuesday morning and with a mere 16 hours of driving later I will arrive at the cozy cabin my boyfriend, Peter, and I rented on Lake Tahoe (he is also doing the run). I always like to get to a destination at least 2 days before the race, which leaves just enough time to shake out the nervous energy and excitement that so naturally occurs before a big event.
I have been training for this race and this race alone since January. The thought of actually running a hundred miles didn’t really hit me until a week ago. And when it hit, it hit hard. All of a sudden I was really giddy and excited. Because I have never run this distance before I have no crazy expectations. Of course I have my own specific goals but I really have no idea what this experience is going to be like. There will be a lot of firsts for me- for example, running through the night with a headlamp, having a pacer (total stranger) run with me for the last 45 miles, running 60 more km than I ever have before, and eating for this length of time!
Of course there are things that I am really worried about. It is going to be hot in the canyons. People can lose a race if they don’t take care of themselves in the heat and if they fail to have properly heat trained. I have spent the last 4 days in the sauna (up to an hour and a half) and will continue to do so until the day I leave. The heat also makes you more prone to blisters because of the moisture and friction. A co-worker of mine had to walk the last 30km of the race last year because his blisters were so bad.
With all this considered it looks as though I have some more planning ahead of me. I have a small crew consisting of my mom (who is flying down) and my younger cousin Caitlin. Both have no prior crewing experience, and I am no help because I have never had a crew before nor have I crewed anyone for this distance. The day before the race however the race directors put on mini talks where the runner’s come to get their bibs etc. They have talks on blister/foot maintenance, how to crew, and nutrition and hydration etc. I am hoping to learn a little bit more there!
I also found a pacer on-line. What exactly is a pacer you ask? It is someone who runs with you and helps motivate you to keep going. In a race of this distance, it is expected that I will go through many highs and lows throughout the course of the day. The pacer helps to keep you focused and makes sure you’re eating and drinking according to plan.
I will post a link in the upcoming days to the website so that you can follow along live and track my progress throughout the race. Alright, time to go pack a lot of high protein elevate me bars for myself and my crew, to keep us all fuelled on the big day!!!
On active days, I need to pay more attention to the kinds of foods I put into my body. Am I eating enough? What kinds of nutrients do I need after a training ride? What will provide sustainable energy without making me feel like I’ve just eaten a brick? Here is a list of a few of my favourite things to eat on training days….
1) Whole Foods Market bulk bins – Deciding what to get can be challenging, given the overwhelming variety of trail mixes, nuts and dried fruits available at Whole Foods. You can innie-minnie-miney-mo, of course, since you are bound to pick something delicious, but my favourite is a toss-up between Energy Nuggets, soy nuts, and any of their bulk granola. I try to remember to bring my reusable snack mix bag so I don’t have to use a new plastic one. You can buy these too at Whole Foods!
2) ElevateMe! Matcha Green Tea with Cranberries bar – Green tea, cranberries, ElevateMe… need I say more? This is by far my favourite energy bar flavor from ElevateMe. I like that it’s already divided in to three pieces, so I can break off a square and go if I need a quick burst of energy. Sometimes I’ll break off a square or two to have as dessert after a post-training dinner.
3) Emergen-C Immune Defence 1000mg vitamin C pack – There’s something really satisfying about drinking vitamin water. As I drink one, I can imagine all of the vitamins permeating right into my body to provide immediate energy and enthusiasm. Emergen-C packs provide the same satisfaction, but without any weird additives or artificial sweeteners. I can boost my immune system (which is always a concern of mine) with this formula that includes 1000mg vitamin C, enhanced zinc, vitamins A and D, and extracts from hibiscus and elderberry. Better yet, I can skip the plastic bottle and save money with this alternative to vitamin water!
4) Buttercup Squash, aka Kabocha Squash – Because it’s pretty heavy, I usually have this for breakfast a few hours before I begin my day. It is rich, sweet, filling and provides healthy carbohydrates for sustainable energy. I keep it pretty simple: steam or bake for approximately 10-20 minutes, or until soft, and serve with salt and pepper. ¾ cup of this cooked delight is provides 30 calories, 70% of your vitamin A and 7 carbohydrates. Save the seeds to toast as a snack for later!
5) Apples and Bananas – Both are simple and easy to eat (sometimes I eat em as I ride!). Apples have an uncountable number of health benefits (check out http://www.besthealthmag.ca/eat-well/nutrition/15-health-benefits-of-eating-apples), and since they are mainly carbohydrates and water they make for a perfectly balanced energy snack. Bananas are rich in potassium, and as we all know, after a good sweaty workout, it is important to replenish the various electrolytes of the body, one of which is potassium. Bananas are super easy to carry in a backpack without worrying about a mess (just don’t put it at the bottom!) and, like most fruits, are easily digestible so you can eat them before or during a training session. Try tossing a peeled banana in the freezer for an ice-cream-like treat on hot summer days!
The title is just what it implies, running or hiking in the mighty Grand Canyon is an experience, one not to be missed. Most ultra runner’s call it the R2R2R, meaning, you run from Either Rim (north or south) over to the opposite rim (direction depending on where you start) and back again. The total distance of the journey itself: 50 miles.
I have read blogs and seen pictures of friends partaking in this grand adventure. This run quickly became a ‘must do’ and I thought, what better year to run it than the year I train for Western States 100. Peter (my running partner) and I flew into Vegas from Bellingham, rented a car, and drove to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, Elevate Me nutrition bars in tow!
There are 3 key ways in which this run perfectly prepares a runner for a 100 miler that takes place in California in late June, (1) Heat (2) Elevation change (3) Time on feet (distance/time)..
Western States 100 is going to be hot; there is no doubt about it. Some years are hotter than others but it is routinely at or around 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Although the temperature in the Grand Canyon reached only 90 degrees Fahrenheit, this was way hotter than any temps I have experienced in Vancouver thus far. As well, I will not likely experience temps this hot before the race. Although I was not in the heat long enough to acclimatize, I have an idea of what to expect come race day, which plays a huge part for me mentally.
Western States has over 40,000 feet of elevation change, which is A LOT. Come race day, if you are not prepared, the constant climbing and descending will not only burn out your quads, it will send your hamstrings screaming towards the sidelines. However, there are no sidelines in ultra running, there are only DNF’s (did not finish). I need to prepare my body to handle the leg pounding from the long descents and the fatigue from the punishing hill climbs. The Grand Canyon, in all its glory, offers both, twice! We began by getting on the 5am shuttle bus which had us running by 5:30am. We started at the South Kaibab Trail and immediately descended 7 miles down towards the Canyon. The terrain in the Canyon was amazing and the flowers were stunning. The rock, and all its layers, is unlike anything I have ever seen. The layers tell a brief story of time and evolution. I loved how the trail traversed along the Bright Angel Creek, which offered up a nice breeze as we ran along it. We quickly started up the climb to the top of the North Rim. It took us a couple hours to reach the top but the mighty view was worth it. We filled our packs with water and carried on back down the hill.
We stopped to talk to a few people along the way and once they found out what we were doing, they told us we were “crazy”. I can’t even begin to count the amount of times we were told that. People take 3-5 days to do what we were doing. There is something satisfying about completing the journey in one day but on the flip side, it would be nice to just linger in the scenery, take it all in, and not just have it be a flash memory.
The heat had risen on the way back and because of that; taking in fuel became that much more challenging. The heat turns your stomach off and you have to push through or else you will not have the necessary amount of energy to continue on at the pace we were going. I was drinking a lot of water; I worried about taking in too much. Of course, I could tell by the salt crystals on my face and the minor swelling in my fingers that I should be taking in more. And I do.
Just before we started up the last big climb of the day, up Bright Angel Trail, we stopped at a little place called Phantom Ranch. They had a mini cafeteria type restaurant which served up the best Lemonade. We were 8 hours into our journey and nothing has ever tasted so good. The final climb seemed to go on forever. We were lucky in that it was pretty much entirely in the shade. As I looked up towards the top of the South Rim, an overwhelming feeling came over me, wondering how I was ever going to make it all the way to the top. We kept plugging away, and eventually we started to get closer and closer. There were many water stops along the way which broke up the trail nicely. We still had a lot of pep in our step because we were still passing people going up the climb.
Alas, we could see the top. I told Peter to slow down, as I wanted to savour this moment. I wanted to bask in the scenery as I knew it would be a while until I came back. The total journey took 11 hours. It was eleven of the most beautiful, wondrous, exhausting, and mentally challenging hours. The longest I have ever been out on my feet is 9 ½ hours, so this took the cake. We reached the car and I grabbed out my Elevate Me Organic Protein Bar. I asked myself if I would ever be back and the answer, without hesitation, DEFINETLY!
A lot of people questioned why we would go all the way to the Grand Canyon, simply to run. But, that is what I do, I run. Why not run in one of the most beautiful places in North America?
Now I ask you, please share what adventures you have been on lately? One’s that took your breathe away?