Tell us which ultra you ran and the distance. How did you select this particular Ultra?
I ran Stump Jump 50K on October 1st, 2016. This race is in Chattanooga, TN. There was very little complicated thought behind choosing this particular race. It was the right distance (I wanted a 50K for my first ultra experience), it was close to home (only about a 2 hour drive), and the date of the race worked well with other things I had on my calendar. Also, I have several friends who have done this one before and spoke very highly of how beautiful the course scenery is. Plus I'd heard the race itself is well-organized. Those reasons were enough for me to be all in!
How did you train differently for this ultra, versus a road marathon? More miles? Back to back long runs? More trail time?
I definitely spent a lot more time on the trails while training for this one. Beginning in early August, every single long run was on the trails. Typically I did one other medium-length run during the week on the trails as well. I continued with my Tuesday track workouts, hopeful that it would preserve some of the speed I'd built over the last year or so. Unfortunately, that didn't exactly happen. But I did enjoy the constant change of scenery and pace that this training cycle brought. I know it seems completely backwards, but I actually ran fewer miles training for this race than I had recently. I was coming off of Boston in April of 2016, where I had done pretty significant mileage to train (peak was 80 miles/week). I intentionally cut back a little bit just to give my mind/body a little bit of a rest. I truly was doing this ultra for the fun of it and the experience. I didn't feel as driven to put in weeks and weeks of high mileage. I think my peak week for Stump Jump was 62 miles. I did several weekends of back to back long runs. That meant maybe 20-22 miles on Saturday, and another 12-14 on Sunday. That was HARD! Honestly, it was more mentally difficult than physically though. By the time Sunday would roll around, I'd feel like all I ever do anymore is run. And I just wanted to sit around with the family and be lazy. But more often than not, I'd manage to make it out the door for another long one.
Did you buy any new gear or incorporate any new gear?
New shoes, of course! I had one pair of New Balance trail shoes already, but they hadn't gotten too much use. Turns out I didn't really like them. I settled on a pair of Pearl Izumi that were great. I have about 300 miles on them now and they still look and perform like new.
I also bought a hydration vest by Camelbak. This was an absolute lifesaver. I could not have survived summer training without a way to consume a significant amount of fluid while on the run. It has a removable bladder that's easy to clean. The vest itself has tons of great storage too. Plenty of pockets for food, phone, keys, salt tabs, whatever! I also feel like it really made me look the part of an experienced trail runner- ha!
What did you do for nutrition? Find something new or just use an old standby?
I incorporated some new things into the mix this time. I found it's much easier (and necessary!) to eat actual real food while training such a long distance. I still did a fair amount of my usual stuff- gu and shot bloks, but I also changed it up from time to time with peanut butter crackers and pretzels, some different types of candy, and on race day salt and vinegar Pringles. YUM!
Describe the course. Terrain, sights and sounds. Aid stations. Finish and start line.
The course was breathtaking. We climbed 11,000 feet up onto a ridge in the mountains of East Tennessee. The view from up there was simply beautiful. Lush green trees and mountains as far as you could see. I thought the terrain was brutal! I know it's all relative, and there are certainly much harder courses out there, but it was a lot more technical than what I had trained on. There was never really ever a very long stretch that was run-able. I was constantly stopping or slowing down to brace myself for a very, very steep descent, a very, very, steep incline, or to jump from one boulder to the next. There is actually about a 2 mile section of the race they call "the rock garden" that had the biggest, most impressive boulders I've ever seen. It was gorgeous, but a little difficult for me mentally because there was zero running happening during that stretch. The aid stations at this race were fantastic. Every two miles, you could count on a fully stocked table. Most every one also had volunteers there to help with whatever you need. The aid station at mile 20 had a drop bag station. I had prepared a drop I bag, but ended up not really using much out of it. I think only grabbed my Pringles and some cinnamon candies. The start and finish lines were very low-key. I'm used to big road marathons, so it was a whole different experience. But in some strange way, it felt just right. A huge, screaming finish would have felt so odd after all those hours in the relative quiet of the woods. I felt great at the finish line, just SO ready to be done.
Nerves before the race or felt fine? Travel to day of or stay overnight the night before? Family come with or stay home?
I really wasn't nervous at all. My training had gone really well and I had no injuries to speak of, so I felt super confident that I could finish. I had put absolutely no pressure on myself regarding a time goal, so maybe for the first time in my life, I REALLY was just out there for fun.
I stayed in a local hotel the night before. I actually had tossed around driving over to Chattanooga the morning of the race, but decided against it. That would have made for a VERY long day. I didn't have any family at this race. My husband would have normally come along to support me, but he was in Guatemala on a medical missions trip on this particular weekend. My parents came to my house to stay with my two young boys, so I was on a solo adventure! It was actually really nice to have a night to myself in a hotel and some "me time" before the race.
Did the race execute as you had planned or hoped for? Running wise/nutrition wise/hydration wise.
Well...I completely underestimated the technicality and difficulty of the course. So given those unknowns, I ended up with a finishing time that was quite a lot slower than what I had thought was reasonable. I thought I'd finish somewhere between 6:45-7:00. My actual time was 7:44. Even so, I felt really, really good throughout the race. Yes, certainly, I was tired by the final miles. I was really starting to feel all those feet I had climbed. My feet and ankles were pretty beat up from boulder hopping and the rockiness of the course. But my nutrition was right on. Hydration was right on. I never had any GI or energy issues. For that I was very, very grateful.
How did it feel to finish this race?
AMAZING!! I ran most of the race with a young lady, Alexis, that I met on the course. She was instrumental in my enjoyment of the race. We chatted and kept each other going for well over 6 hours that day. We crossed the finish line together and that made it even more special.
How much recovery time did you take off post-race and what are some of the things you did?
I didn't run at all for a little over a week, and then started back very, very gradually with some very short easy runs. I spent a good amount of time during that first month afterwards on the bike and in the pool. I also got a massage!
Plans for another Ultra any time soon?
I'm considering another one for next summer/early fall. But the next big thing on my brain right now is Boston, which is all-consuming. I definitely want to do another at some point. I think the 50 miler is up next!
Thanks Coach Jenny for giving us a recap! I think we may need another Boston recap after Boston this year:).