My First Ultra - Lessons Learned

The recovery is over. I can no longer justify my consumption of massive quantities of calories. But I'm happily back into long runs again (although it's MUCH HOTTER than the last time I did a long run). And the only thing left for me to do is to cling to my Grand Canyon 50k memories, post #tbt photos, and shop the interwebs for My Next Ultra.

Meanwhile, here are some lessons I learned from My First Ultra - Grand Canyon 50k
  1. Do All the Training. Including hills. As a matter of fact, in my first draft this one was "Run More Hills." But covering the distance is vital. Bottom line: find a good training plan and stick to it. What do I mean by "good"? 
    1. Follow a plan that you can... follow. Don't jump into a plan that calls you to run 6 days a week if your schedule doesn't allow you to run more than 4 days a week. Or if you've only ever run 3 days a week. 
    2. A good plan should require you to do some cross training. Strength training. Strong core = strong runner. Strong hamstrings are key for being a balanced runner. Plus strength training helps keep bones healthy. Research shows that heavier weight with lower reps is important to balance the repetitive movements that running requires.  
    3. A solid running plan will incorporate base miles (slow, easy runs), long runs (or LSD- long, slow distance), and speed or hill work. The amount of each of those depends on your goals. If you're a beginner, just aim to cover the distance and finish the race, don't worry about speed and hills. Be sure to finish the weekly distance. If you're more advanced and want to PR (set a personal record), hit all the speed and hill workouts. 
  2. Research. And then Research some more. Know everything there is to know about the race. (Hint-- do this before settling on a training plan. Big elevation gains, means lots of hill work. Soft terrain, means lots of soft terrain running. Technical trails, means practicing on technical trails.) Look into elevation gains/losses. Learn about the terrain and temperatures. Read as many race reports as you can to get a variety of perspectives of the race. READ EVERYTHING ON THE RACE'S WEBSITE AND THE EMAILS SENT. For example, my race was on the remote North Rim of the Grand Canyon. They warned us there would be no GPS or cell service and told us to print directions to the campsites and race location. We did, and it was pretty necessary. What I didn't pay attention to? The fact that overnight temperatures would dip into the 30s. Fahrenheit. From midnight until wake up, I was sleeping fitfully in the van because I was so cold (and unprepared to be cold). 
    Planning my aid station stops.

  3. Overpack. Again, you have to know details about the race to know what you are going to need. Because I was traveling to the race, I brought every type of clothing I might want to run in: running shorts, compression shorts, capris, tall compression socks, short socks (a thick and a thin pair), tank top, short sleeve, long sleeve, arm sleeves, trail shoes, and regular running shoes. Then ALL the gear: Camelbak, hydration belt, waist belt for my iPhone, ear buds, iPod Nano, portable cell phone charger, Band Aids, blister kit, Vaseline, Blistex, sunscreen, gum, hat, glasses, and buff. Let's not forget food: Clif bars, cashews, and almonds (these are all things I've eaten in the past-- the nuts -just-in-case- for salt, and Clif bars for the run). 
    The view from our tent
  4. Aid Stations are Dangerous. I had NO IDEA. Really. The Ultra Adventures people know how to stock and staff aid stations. The volunteers were spectacular. As soon as I walked up, someone was asking me what I needed. The problem is, when I started to feel depleted, at the later aid stations, I didn't know what I needed. The aid station volunteers talked me through a checklist of things I could need-- water? ice? blister care? sweets? salty? beer? Here's why they are DANGEROUS: You're hot, tired, hungry/thirsty, and there's an oasis. Food! Of all kinds! It's a buffet! I wanted to shove all kinds of things in my face, hoping to make. IT. better. I didn't want to leave. I wanted to stay and eat potato chips until the volunteers packed up the aid station and drove (me) back to camp. (Be resolved. Do not fall prey to the peanut butter M&M's or the Nutella that's calling your name. Know before you start the race what you will eat. Stick to what fuels you best. Better to indulge post race, than at the aid station, and then have to... uh... un-indulge along the side of the course.)
  5. The Ultra Community is the Best! Really and truly. From the check-in on Friday until check-out on Saturday, I don't think I heard a single complaint from anyone. The check-in was set up like a campground with hammocks for any and all to use, good food cooked over a grill, a S'mores station, and some vendors selling last minute "I forgot" race items. The atmosphere was laid back and welcoming. The runners on the course were polite and encouraging. This was certainly an experience I can't wait to have again! 
    The Swag is pretty great, too! (Yes, that's my name in the "55K")


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