Tag Archives: Potawatomi Trail Run

Race training is all about dealing with unforeseen challenges

25 Feb

Training for a race is seldom without its challenges.

Just when you think things are going well, life gets in the way or a new problem emerges that makes you re-think your plans. So it’s been for me the past week or so.

Heel blister.

Heel blister.

I now have 5 weeks to my first ultramarathon, a 50-miler in Pekin, Ill. But over the past 10 days, my training has been interrupted by a short vacation to New Orleans and a 5-day business trip to San Diego. It’s hard to log long miles while in unfamiliar towns.

I managed to run on all three of my usual days while in New Orleans. I didn’t run as far as I had been, and my long run was just something over 11 miles. But a cutback week wasn’t too bad.

But I skipped both midweek runs while in San Diego. That two-hour time change to Pacific Time plays hell with my internal time clock, and I came down with some allergies that exacerbated things.

And then Sunday’s planned long run went down the tubes. I’ve been flirting with a blister on my heel for the past few long runs, but I had avoided major problems. Today, I put a large bandage over the trouble spot before heading out, but by mile 5, I knew there were problems. When I checked, the bandage had fallen off. Rather than risk an even bigger problem, I cut my planned 20-miler to just 6 miles.

By stopping before the blister got too bad, I’ll be able to hit the road again sooner, but losing a long run at this point is troublesome.

I spent most of Sunday afternoon reading up on blister treatments. I knew blisters could be a problem in ultras, so I guess this episode has just forced me to do a bit more studying.

One of the best resources I have seen is a by runner named Jonathan Savage, who goes by the handle of fellrnr. His post on taping blisters can be found here. In the past, I’ve had a hard time getting quality supplies in town, so I ordered tape and adhesive from ZombieRunner, which caters to ultrarunners.

I hope to be able to hit the road for my next scheduled run on Tuesday, but I’m not sure what to do about the lost miles. I may try to extend my mid-week runs and slightly lengthen the next long run. But I don’t know if I’ll be able to handle the volume.

Unfortunately, there are no sure answers in race training. There are some fairly standard practices, but even the methods of the great coaches vary. And when you throw in a thousand different variables, finding the “one right answer” becomes near impossible.

In the end, we are all an experiment of one. Here’s hoping I can find a good answer for my latest training challenges.

Scouting trip: Potawatomi Trail run

26 Jan

Click on any photo to launch the gallery.

Narrow trails, steep hills and slippery footing; sounds like fun!

I’ve spent a lot of miles on the road over the past 10 years, training for and competing in 17 marathons or half marathons.  But trail runs and ultramarathons are a whole new challenge. So if I’m going to tackle the Potawatomi Trail 50 in April, I figured I needed to reconnoiter the course.

And, boy, was it enlightening.

Here are a few of the things I learned on a short trail run on Saturday:

  1. 1,600 feet of rise is quite a bit. The race’s website said that runners will experience 1,600 feet of elevation gain during one 10-mile lap. I really had no context for that number. But after a 5-mile test run, I learned that means there are plenty of hills. There are quite a few very steep climbs on the trail, as you can see from some of the photos in the gallery above. Barb suggested I should add some workouts on the stepper into my routine, and I think that’s a pretty good idea.
  2. Trail speed and road speed are different. A review of lap times from previous years had me stumped. For the 50-mile race (they have a 100-mile and a 150-mile race, too), the fastest runner finished the first lap at about the same pace that I run a 10-mile training run. I know that I won’t be among the fastest runners, but I wasn’t quite sure how to judge those times. But after seeing the switchbacks, the steep ascents and descents, the slippery footing in what is probably some of the best trail conditions, I could understand why the times were so much slower.
  3. A single track trail will offer challenges in footing. This wasn’t a surprise, really, but today’s run put it in some perspective. There had been no recent rains or snows, and, with temperatures in the mid-20s, the trail was dry and firm. But that could easily change in early April. Plus the forest floor was covered in leaves, which were slippery as you made your way up or down steep slopes. And rocks and dried mud made for an uneven landing spot for your feet. I had debated whether I should purchase trail shoes, but after today’s run, I’m pretty sure I will.
  4. A number of steep hills means there will be a number of creeks. They were frozen or dry now. That may not be the case in April.
  5. Blisters could develop fast. Neither Barb nor I had any blisters after our 5-mile test run, but we had plenty of hot spots. Blisters probably weren’t far behind. The steep hills had our feet and toes working in ways that they don’t normally work on the roads. And in general, blisters can be a problem over an ultra. Some runners tape their feet before they even set out.

That’s a lot of learning for a simple 5-mile run.

Apparently, it was revealing for the wife and daughter, too. On the ride home, Barb asked if I really wanted my first 50-mile run to be on such a steep, winding trail. A 50-mile road run would be easier, she reasoned.

And daughter Laura, after seeing the photos of the trails, said, basically, I wasn’t very smart to tackle a challenge like this at my advanced age. (Well, some of that may be my interpretation of what she said.)

Admittedly, there is some trepidation on my part. By definition, a challenge isn’t easy. But it can certainly be fun.

♦ ♦ ♦

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED: Read this post for my race report on the Potawatomi Trail 50 mile run.

Sunny and 50: Let’s run

19 Jan

“Run when you can, walk if you have to, crawl if you must; just never give up.” — Dean Karnazes, ultramarathon runner

Today was warm and sunny and a great day for a long run. The temperature was unseasonably high — mid-50s– for Iowa in January.

I was pleased with today’s run. Here is a map of the run. I use either Endomondo or MapMyRun to live-track my runs so the family knows where I am.

The run-walk approach is helping me complete the runs without getting too beat up. I used a 5-minute run, 1-minute walk pattern, which I also utilized on Friday’s 7-miler. I am pairing fairly long runs on back-to-back days in order to simulate the stress of the ultra. I will continue to lengthen these runs in the coming weeks.

The Million Dollar View from Keokuk's Rand Park showed blue skies and a blue Mississippi River on a gorgeous January day.

The Million Dollar View from Keokuk’s Rand Park showed blue skies and a blue Mississippi River on a gorgeous January day.

I ate a package of Power Bar Energy Blasts on the run. Only the second time I have used them, and today’s lemon-flavored chews were yummy! I normally eat Honey Stinger Energy Chews, and they are very good, too. But I’ll have to add the PowerBar chews into the mix.

Unfortunately, I suffered from some nausea after the run. This is generally not a problem for me, so I reviewed this article and this article on the malady.

Since the ultra in April is on trails, that brings a new challenge for me. I ran a marathon on the Wabash Trace trail in Shenandoah, Iowa, in September, but that was on a converted railroad bed. It was wide and flat and covered with crushed limestone.

The Potawatomi Trail run is on a more traditional trail: some single track, some grass, and plenty of ups and downs. Or at least that’s my impression, after reading about the race. I think I need to scout the locale. If the timing works out, I’m going to head to Pekin next Saturday for a trial run.

Proof that it was nice enough to run in shorts in January.

Proof that it was nice enough to run in shorts in January.

I’m concerned I may need to get some trail shoes to handle the terrain. Not knowing how many trail races I’ll run, I’m not sure I want to invest in another pair of shoes. But a trial run will help answer this question.

I do think I’ll invest in some gaiters. In preparation for the trails, I am running on the shoulders and the grass as much as I can. Today, I got a rock in my shoe in pretty short order. This also was a bit of a problem on the Wabash Trace.

Eleven weeks until race day, and there’s still plenty of work to do.

The first baby steps on a 50-mile trail

13 Jan

It seems like I began training for my ultramarathon in earnest this weekend.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been building my mileage as I normally would. I’ve stuck to four runs a week with some speed work during the work week and a long run on the weekend. At some point, I may add another midweek run in order to build mileage even more, but it’s been better for the aches and pains to stay with four runs a week.

I have lengthened my two midweek runs further than I normally would for marathon training. This week, I did a pair of 7-milers on Tuesday and Thursday. If I’m going to tackle an ultra, I’ll need more mileage under my belt.

Getting in extra miles during an Iowa winter means not letting a little snow or ice stop you. Here, I've added 5/8th-inch sheet metal screws to the bottom of some of my older running shoes.

Getting in extra miles during an Iowa winter means not letting a little snow or ice stop you. Here, I’ve added 5/8th-inch sheet metal screws to the bottom of some of my older running shoes.

But the biggest change from my usual training plan came on my weekend runs. I have made two key changes: 1) I’ve lengthened the pair of runs, and 2) I’ve moderated the pace.

I actually ran my longest run on Saturday instead of Sunday, but that change had more to do with the weather. The forecast called for the temperatures to drop all weekend, so I did a 15-miler in the mid-30s on Saturday and a 6-miler on Sunday with temps in the teens.

I’ll continue to combine back-to-back long runs on Saturdays and Sundays, working up to a 3-hour run on Saturday and a 4-hour run on Sunday. I may need to go further than that, but for now, those are the times/distances I have planned.

My second change was in my approach to the longest run. Instead of running at a constant pace for the entire run, I alternated 5-minute run segments with 1-minute walk segments. This keeps the body fresher longer. And that certainly seemed to be the case Saturday, when I still felt pretty darn good at the end of the 15 miles.

The run-walk method is used by some marathoners, and promoter Jeff Galloway says many runners can finish faster with this approach instead of the steady state approach. But for ultramarathoners, the key is to feel good for as long as you can. Many runners will use the run-walk method and walk up any hill. After all, unless you are an elite runner, the goal is to survive and keep moving forward.

The run-walk will test my patience. On Saturday, I just wanted to keep going, make some progress, get that much closer to done. I had to keep telling myself to be patient. But that will be key for a 10- or 12-hour ultramarathon effort.

I still haven’t totally committed to an ultra. My mileage is a bit behind where it should be, and I’m always wary of reaggravating my hamstring. If I have to rest that for any length of time, my timing will be shot.

There aren’t many ultras around, and I’ve found one only a couple hours away in Illinois in early April. The Potawatomi Trail Run 50 looks like a fun race, so even if my planning isn’t perfect, that’s the race I’m aiming for. I wish it was a bit later, but it is what it is.

And the new challenge has me jazzed. I’m looking at my training from a new perspective and learning all kinds of new things. So I’ll hope for steady progress over the next weeks.

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