Friday, January 4, 2013

How to Train for a 50k the WRONG Way.

There are a few events in life where you look back and seem to forget about the hardships, pain, and misery that proceeds or in fact qualifies the accomplishment.  I've heard that childbirth is like that, although some would obviously disagree.  Graduating college is another one worthy accomplishment, when looking back one often only remembers the good times, not the crazy stress of finals week or 5 hour chemistry labs.  But surely running a 50k during the winter in rugged mountains and trails would be one of those events in life where the good certainly wouldn't seem to outweigh the bad, at least it would seem that way to those who haven't ran one or could even understand why anyone would want to "race" that far.  It is through those eyes, the eyes blind to the strife that took place on January 21st, 2012 in the Owyhee mountains, that I signed up for the 2nd running of the Wilson Creek Frozen 50k (race report here).

One would assume that before signing up for a 50k ultramarathon that takes place 4 weeks from the date of signup that the individual signing up would have been training hard and long for quite some time.  Most training plans require about 20 weeks of gradual buildup and peak runners somewhere around 50-60 miles per week.  The truth is that I haven't really been "training" but I haven't been docile either.  My "training plan" for this race has been an intense buildup of running in the last few weeks, with an intense cycling regimen in the several weeks leading up the the running.  When race day comes, I'll have about 6 weeks of solid running in.  I was steadily building mileage in October before a cold knocked me down for 10 days and then I started over at 15 miles per week again in late November before jumping up the 30+ miles a week around Christmas.  Ultimately, I managed to run 54 miles in 6 days between Christmas and  New Years Eve, culminating in an epic trip around Wilson Peak with fresh snow and bitter cold temperatures challenging me.  I'm still shooting for a 40 mile week this week and I will then begin tapering off until race day.  The good thing about training this way is that I really don't have time to develop some of the nagging injuries that often plague me above 40 miles per week.  I often get tendinitis in my IT band and sometimes in my feet.  However, I really have been feeling OK despite jumping my mileage up pretty fast.

As part of my "plan" I try to simulate the effort that I will need to complete the ultra on race day.  The key is to tire out the legs and then try to keep running, as I will surely be tired at the end of the first 20 miles of the 31 mile race.  Last year, I ran the 20 mile loop out at Wilson Creek and then did a nice little 11 mile road run  the day after.  The problem is that by the time I was able to do the Wilson loop comfortably, I was at the point that recovering by the next day wasn't too bad, and my legs feet great on the 11 miler the day after.  This year I decided that I would kill the legs in the week before the 20 mile practice run at Wilson and then try to run the Wilson loop at the pace I expected to maintain during the ultra.  The tiring out part worked wonderfully, and I was able to put in quite a few miles in in the snow and wind before head out to Wilson Creek to run the 20 mile loop.  The plan was to head out on New Years Eve with my friend Ben Blessing and try to hang on.  So on Monday, December 31st, 2012, I met Ben and his dog Shadow at the Nampa Rec Center and we drove out to the trail head.

The drive out to Wilson was rather uneventful, other than the fact that as we rode out to the trails the thermometer in the car was steadily decreasing from the teens to the single digits as we got close to the trail.  At one point it showed 5 degrees Fahrenheit, but rose to a balmy 8 degrees by the time we pulled into the parking lot.  This was sure to be a COLD run.

With the temps so frigid, I really wanted to just stay in the car and head back to my cozy bed.  But alas, this is the life of the ultrarunner.  Run in all conditions through and over all kinds of terrain.  So it was out of the car and up the trail we went.  The light was just starting to come out for the day so we left the headlamps in the car and took off up the trail.  The moon was still out and we got the pleasure of watching it sink slowly to the horizon throughout the course of the run.

Morning light.  Single digit temperatures.
Ben and Shadow enjoying the moon sinking to the horizon.
Fortunately, the trail climbs so much in the first 5 miles that keeping warm wasn't too hard, but I was still chilled.  The key to staying warm in these conditions is simply run hard.  The problem with that is that if you burn yourself up in the uphill portion of this 20 mile loop, there is a nasty price to pay on the down hill at the end.  You have to save the legs for the crazy steep downhill run off of Wilson Peak.
Climbing early in the loop.
After beating the first real challenge of the loop at the 6 mile mark, Ben and I were blown away by this awesome view of the terrain ahead.  This was about the first time we had really seen the sun since we started, and boy was it a welcomed sight.
Mile 6.
Frozen!

At the 10 mile mark of this loop, I was thoroughly chilled to the core.  Ben was much fresher than I was and had to wait quite often for me, so I'm sure he was freezing as well.  I suspect that on race day, the only time I'll see Ben is at the start and then he'll be gone, way ahead of my rather under-prepared legs and lungs.

The scenery up and down Wilson Peak was simply awesome with all the snow around, and I took the time to be sure I enjoyed seeing the terrain this way.  It is not common to have snow this low in the mountains for long in the Owyhees, although the temperatures can often be freezing.  There just really isn't much moisture in the area.  After topping out Wilson Peak, I tried to run downhill, but my left ankle was really sore from the uneven surface the snow was providing, and I really had to take it easy.  Ben once again was gone and had to wait quite often for my sorry carcass to trickle down the hill.  This was a bit out of character for me, as I usually blast the downhills, but not on this day.

On top of Wilson, the weather equipment on top had blown over.  Yikes!
Winter in the Owyhees.
Ben and Shadow on top of Wilson.
The view coming off Wilson Peak.  Wow!
 Once we were off the mountain we enjoyed a nice little show as Shadow jumped a jackrabbit and chased it through the sagebrush.  Every so often he'd pop up out of the brush and we'd lose sight of him again.  One thing is for sure, this dog lives for running and was having a great time despite the frigid weather.  Once we were onto the last 2 mile stretch back to the car, the life kinda came back into me and I was running OK while chatting with Ben and tripping on Shadow.  I actually felt better than I did coming off the mountain last year during the race which was reassuring for race day.  I was 30 minutes slower on this loop in the snow than I was in the mud last year, but I can certainly cut 10 or 15 minutes off by not stopping to smell the roses like I did on this day.  A couple on horseback rode into the parking lot at about the same time we finished.  They looked as if they were dressed to go on an arctic expedition, while we looked like we were just out of the spandex section at the local sporting goods store.  To each his own, but for me, this was simply a great day on the trails.
Nothing like a layer of ice frozen to your shoes... COLD!
The infamous Wilson Peak hidden behind the clouds.

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