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Notes for next time: Pacing, gear, intakes, and crewing

That I’m already talking about a “next time” is a good indication that I was pleased with my Run Rabbit Run 100 performance and that my recovery has been relatively mild. I have no specific plans yet, but I think it’s apparent that I do relatively better in races that are longer and have more vertical — basically, races that force runners to hike.

To help with the planning and completion of the next undertaking, whether that be a race or a hike, I have found it valuable to assemble a list of what worked and what didn’t on the most recent go-around (as I did here and here). The notes below are specific to me and to RRR100, but they have wider applicability, too, and hopefully you find a few that are useful.


Training

  • Read about my ultra marathon training plan.
  • The course is longer and has less vertical than advertised — it’s closer to 107 miles and 18k feet of vertical gain instead of 103 miles and 20k feet. This amounts to a 15 percent difference in the average vertical feet of gain or loss per mile, to 335 from 395.
  • If properly trained, most of the course is run-able. The climbs are long but gradual, and the trails are decidedly non-technical save for lower Fish Creek Trail, which is only moderately technical.
  • In sum, training sessions that involve multiple direct ascents and descents (read: steep) in Boulder’s foothills may be less helpful than more gradual routes, e.g. Chapman Drive, Long Canyon, Bear Canyon, Magnolia Road.
  • Scout the course earlier, or scout over more days, rather than going out just 1.5 weeks beforehand. By race day I may have recovered from my 38- and 15-mile runs, but none of the other workouts during the taper felt good, which rattled my confidence.
  • Backpacking at altitude is not a perfect substitute for running at altitude. Add more training runs in the high country.

Pace predictions

  • Analysis shows that the winners run the most even races, i.e. their pace drops off less than other racers, especially late in the race. For this reason, Rob Krar’s 2014 performance was a smart template for my own race plan. If I ran about 13 percent slower than him for each split, I’d finish in about 20 hours.
  • When printing the pace chart, consider the ease of reading it while running, perhaps in the dark. If its size becomes too unwieldy with larger print, go double-sided.
  • Add two columns for net vertical gain and net vertical loss; one column with net vertical can be deceptive.
  • Be slightly wary of the recommended pace and splits for individual segments of the race (e.g. the 6.4 miles between Mt Werner and Long Lake). These calculations can be easily skewed by misunderstanding the exact location of an aid station, by limited access to race data, or by unique events with your model pacer (e.g. bathroom break, long aid station break, clothing adjustment, etc). The cumulative time is more reliable.
  • For the aforementioned reason, consider using the average splits of 2+ racers rather than the splits of just one.
  • Have fresh pace charts available at several crew stations and/or drop bag locations. They are easy to confuse with discarded food wrappers or to leave behind during a clothing or gear swap.
To create splits for a 20-hour finish, I added 13 percent to Rob Krar's times in last year's race. I used packaging tape to protect the chart from sweat and liquids.

To create splits for a 20-hour finish, I added 13 percent to Rob Krar’s times in last year’s race. I used packaging tape to protect the chart from sweat and liquids.

Pacing

  • Be patient, be patient, be patient. I can make up huge amounts of time in the last 50 or even 25 miles if I am still “fresh” at that stage of the race.
  • At the start, find another racer to be patient with, like a Jim Sweeny or Mark Austin. Due to limited ultra racing experience, I still get panicked by how quickly I’m “out of the race” when the front of the pack takes off. Reassure each other that the race will come back, which it always has.
  • Each racer has a maximum average heart rate that is sustainable over 100 miles. At the start, every racer that I saw was exceeding it; some were even in oxygen debt, as if they were doing 400-meter repeats on the track. It’s easy to start off fast — there’s a lot of excitement and the legs are fresh after a multi-week taper. But don’t fall into this trap: utilizing this energy later in the race will achieve greater time savings.
  • Start with racers whose unsustainable starting pace is about my optimal race pace. If I start among racers against whom I stack up, inevitably I will start off too fast — there’s too much peer pressure to keep up. This may mean starting at the back of the pack, if my ego can accept that.

Logistics

  • Pack duct tape and a Sharpie for writing my name, bib number, and location on drop bag(s)
  • My packing checklist is nearly perfect
  • Unless the race committee improves the educational value of the pre-race briefing, consider skipping it if that time could be better utilized.
  • Recommended restaurants: The Rusted Porch and Rex’s American Grill & Bar

Clothing & gear

  • If executed well, the two-light system (one on the head, the other at waist level) is optimal: I can illuminate my line-of-sight (e.g. watch, pace chart, trail intersection) and have depth perception via the waist light.
  • Bouncing of the waist light needs to be minimized, if not eliminated entirely. Use a static belt rather than the elasticized straps standard on headlamps, and add a stiff backing, e.g. cardboard.
  • My Suunto Ambit2 had an 18% charge left when I finished the race. If a heart rate monitor were not used, it would probably have done even better. Throughout the race, it recorded a GPS track every 5 seconds.
  • The section between Long Lake and Summit Lake, and the miles immediately below those sections, get very cold at night. At Olympian, where I geared up for this section at around 8 PM, I shouldn’t have been so hopeful that the relatively nice weather in downtown Steamboat Springs would follow me up to 10,000 feet.
  • I started the race in a tank top, shorts, visor, and sunglasses. By the top of the first climb, I was thankful to have packed some liner gloves and a buff.
  • On the second pass through Olympian, I added arm sleeves and my wind shirt, but should have taken at least another layer for the higher elevations.
  • On the return trip past Dry Lake at 2:20 AM, I picked up a lightweight knit polyester long-sleeve and 200-weight fleece mid-layer; I swapped my liner gloves for 300-weight fleece gloves. These additions made a big difference while running along the Continental Divide during the coldest hours.
Temperatures plummeted at night, especially at the higher elevations. Amanda had on-hand a bag of warmer clothes that I picked from depending on the conditions. At 8AM I grabbed the arm sleeves and wind shirt to supplement the gloves and buff that I already had. At midnight I grabbed the long-sleeve shirt, 200-weight fleece, and warmer gloves.

Temperatures plummeted at night, especially at the higher elevations. Amanda had on-hand a bag of warmer clothes that I picked from depending on the conditions. At 8AM I grabbed the arm sleeves and wind shirt to supplement the gloves and buff that I already had. At midnight I grabbed the long-sleeve shirt, 200-weight fleece, and warmer gloves.

Intakes

  • Because I am willing to individually monitor my intake of liquids, calories, salts, and caffeine, I can better control the amounts by consuming, say, plain water instead of drink mixes, and caffeine pills instead of gels containing caffeine.
  • On average, I consumed 100-150 calories per hour. Early in the race, I stayed in the low end of this range; later in the race, on the high end, since I felt physically hungry. I never felt low on energy and never had GI issues.
  • Halfway through the race, I was tiring of sweet snacks like gels and Honey Stinger Waffles, but I lacked a go-to savory option. Some experimentation is needed here.
  • I did not feel well hydrated until the evening, once the sun went down and temperatures cooled. The long, dry, and exposed stretch between Olympian and Cow Creek did not help.
  • Net caffeine intake was about 250 mg, with most of it taken in the middle of the night to fend off drowsiness.

Crewing

  • The top of the gondola is not at the top of Mt Werner. Crew members should board the gondola immediately after the start if they wish to see their runner(s) at both locations.
  • The final mile to the Cow Creek Aid Station will be wet and muddy after recent rains. Beware with light, FWD vehicles.
  • Expect near-freezing temperatures at Dry Lake. Racers can stay warm with skimpy clothing because they are generating so much body heat, but crew members are simply standing around. Bring a chair, sleeping bag, Thermos with hot drink, hand and foot warmers, winter clothing, and winter shoes with warm socks.
  • A sun shade at Olympian Hall would have been welcomed.
  • Rather than having bins of loose items, try to anticipate needs (e.g. food, water, clothing) and create a bag for each crew station. For unanticipated or changing needs, have one additional bag of backup items.
  • Crews need to eat, too. Have specific lunch, dinner, and coffee plans, plus some backup options if the runner is substantially ahead or behind schedule.
  • Know the shuttle pick-up and drop-off points. If you miss a critical aid station (e.g. where your runner plans to pick up their headlamp and warmer clothing), it could be catastrophic.
  • Volunteers were dedicated and enthusiastic, but most were uninformed beyond their specific role, e.g. preparing food, recording bib numbers. For information about things like runner whereabouts and shuttles, have other sources.
For each crew point, there was a separate bag with items I thought I would need: food, water, salts, headlamps, etc. Amanda reported that this was more convenient than a bin of loose items.

For each crew point, there was a separate bag with items I thought I would need: food, water, salts, headlamps, etc. Amanda reported that this was more convenient than a bin of loose items.

Recovery

  • If at all possible, avoid lodging with stairs. The reason will become more evident after the race that it is at check-in.
  • Avoid ibuprofen during the race, but have it on hand for afterwards.

18 Responses to Notes for next time: Pacing, gear, intakes, and crewing

  1. Nathan September 22, 2015 at 11:55 am #

    Great info. Would you add additional crew members in the future? Not that Amanda wasn’t good enough, but to help with crew fatigue.

    • Andrew Skurka September 22, 2015 at 12:13 pm #

      For the sole reason of avoiding boredom, I think Amanda may have appreciated another person or two with her. But she made friends, and she had her Kindle. Functionally, there is little reason to have more than one person so long as they are willing to stick it out through the night.

  2. Albert September 22, 2015 at 12:58 pm #

    “Avoid ibuprofen during the race.” Why? Upset stomach or some other reason. Just curious.

  3. Tim Long September 22, 2015 at 1:27 pm #

    Really great, thorough info. I learned a lot about the race by following it closer this year. Aside from your relatively low calorie intake, we follow similar protocol from split chart design to individually monitoring fuel, water, electrolyte intake and not mixing them. All your planning and execution obviously works well for you. Congrats on a terrific race!

    • Andrew Skurka September 22, 2015 at 1:39 pm #

      How many calories were you consuming? I find that I don’t need as many as conventional wisdom suggests, and have the data to prove it.

      • Tim Long September 22, 2015 at 1:55 pm #

        I messed around with fueling a lot, with the goal of feeling full energy without nausea and found that 200-300 cals and hour is about right for me. This is based on an output of roughly 600 calories per hour (my 100 mi even effort level). The calories are a mixture of bars, chew bloks, and gels (gels probably make up most of it). Of course, I pay close attention to balancing hydration and electrolyte levels for best digestion and processing of the calories, which varies based on all sorts of things like effort levels, temperature, stage in the race, etc. I’m aware that fewer calories can work for some people. I recently had Nick Clark on our show and learned he recently moved to a low calorie fueling plan, which lowered his raw energy but alleviated his nausea mid-race. I’ve tried lower intake but feel slow and very sluggish. Like many things, it’s an individual thing that people should test thoroughly in training.

  4. Tom McCarty September 22, 2015 at 2:56 pm #

    Congratulations. I admire what you have done. For a savory food option, you might try canned yams. Drain the light syrup and mix them with olive oil and a little salt. Serve them in a Dixie cup. Fill the cup half way and roll the top half down. The athlete can just grab one and squeeze it to eat. You could also use fresh yams or sweet potatoes boiled in vegetable stock, if your crew has a stove.

  5. Paul September 23, 2015 at 9:46 am #

    Awesome work and as always I love reading your post-race/trip recaps. Either more people need to take your lead on these types of posts or I need to get you to start running every race I plan to run the year prior so I can get some good beta! 🙂

    Thanks for always sharing such great info.

  6. Chris Bellows September 23, 2015 at 11:34 am #

    Thanks for such a great post-race write-up. Combined with your pre-race thoughts you have given runners a great template for this and other ultras. Glad the few items you wish you knew ahead of time did not impact your race too much.

    Did you find there were any differences in what you were able to eat/drink during the warm day versus the frigid night?

    Congrats on a great race.

    • Andrew Skurka September 23, 2015 at 1:42 pm #

      I drank water the whole race, no drink mixes. Obviously I needed to drink less in the cooler temperatures, but early in the night I drank more than I needed because I had some catching up to do from the warmer daytime miles.

      As far as food, my loss of appetite for sweet things was driven more by general fatigue than by temperatures. Even if it’d been 60 degrees at Mile 80, I probably would have found sweet stuff just as unappetizing.

  7. BJ September 24, 2015 at 9:05 pm #

    Thanks for the detailed write-up of logistics, Andrew. I’m curious, what settings did you have your Ambit2 on for GPS? Interval and Accuracy? Cheers, BJ

    • Andrew Skurka September 24, 2015 at 10:11 pm #

      Log interval: 10 seconds
      GPS interval: 5 seconds (“Good”)

      I thought I had the log interval at 1 second, but I just checked and it was at 10. The information provided by Suunto implies that only the GPs interval affects battery life, not the log interval. The only limitation on the log interval is memory — If you’re going to be out for a really long time without an opportunity to download data, this could make a difference.

    • Andrew Skurka September 24, 2015 at 10:12 pm #

      Would it be of interest if I post all of my “race” settings and views for the Ambit?

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Andrew Skurka Interview - September 24, 2015

    […] this experienced mountain guide, right?  After his second hundred miler, I spoke with Andrew about what he learned while racing Run Rabbit Run, what’ll he’ll do differently next time, and how we can all […]

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