Friday, April 4, 2008

Ultra Gear (P4): Crews and Strategies

Welcome to Part 4 of my Ultra Gear and Performance Series.
Click HERE to Review Part 1: The Outter Layer
Click HERE to Review Part 2: Nutrition and Hydration
Click Here to Review Part 3: Medical and Misc.

Here in Part 4 I will be discussing Crews and also giving you a little insight into my race strategies in finishing 50 and 100+ mile races. I will even give you a little bit of insight into my training program so you can get a small idea of what I do to prepare for these events. I want to reiterate that I am NOT a doctor nor am I an expert by any means at any of this. I, like yourselves, am an experiment of one. I am simply relaying to you all what has worked for me over the last 3 years of Ultra-Running. While what works for me MIGHT work for you, it is simply my hope that you will find this information helping in devising your own plans and in turn, helping you to finish your first ultra whatever the distance may be.


Above is a photo of my crew at the 2007 Vermont 100 Mile Endurance Run. From my own personal perspective and from the various perspectives of others, my crew was THE BEST during this event. My crew consisted of (From L to R) Paul Kearney (RunlongVT on running forums), My fiance Sarah Chretien and my brother-in-law Mike Robinson.

Choosing a Crew:
This is a pretty important decision to make. Who should be on my crew? Choosing the wrong people who mean disaster for you late in a race. What I mean by this is, if you choose the wrong people for your crew, they could serve to be more useless than useful. I always choose the most POSITIVE thinkers that I know. You want people who are going to encourage you through-out the race. Being a crew member is a HUGE responsibility and you need people who won't have a problem being dedicated to YOUR success and their boredom for the next 24-36 hours. Remember, it is as much an endurance event for your crew as it is for you. Choose the people you know can do the job and do it well. Choose the people you know who will remain positive and choose the people you know will actually enjoy themselves doing this HUGE favor for you.

Prepare Your Crew:
As you begin asking folks to be on your crew, make sure you make it very clear to them exactly what they will be doing. "Well, pretty much I need you to stay awake for 24 hours or more, aside from a few cat naps, and drive all over gods creation bringing my essential gear to various checkpoints." While this doesn't sound exciting.. this is why you must pick positive thinkers. The same type of people you know can make well out of any situation. It is imperitive that your crew understands what is expected of them and what they are getting into. Make sure there are no surprises.. SCARE THEM NOW so that on race day they won't be scared then (of such things as vomit, blood, blisters, chafe, etc.).

Crew Binder:
I have a blue three ring binder that goes to EVERY single race no matter if it is a 50K, 50 Mile or more. This binder is the "crew Bible." This binder serves as your main communication piece between you and your crew in the moments that you guys are not together (ie. As you are running the race). Page 1 of the binder starts with a spreadsheet. The spreadsheet has 7 columns. 1.) Aid station Names, 2.) Miles IN, 3.) Miles To Go, 4.) Miles to Next Aid/Handler and column #'s 5-7 are for split times for each aid station given a particular goal and (/) Time of DAY it should be that I am arriving at the given aid station providing the race started on time.

So.. For instance.. I'll use Aid Station #3 at the Vermont 50 as an example.(This would be Row 3 of the Sheet)

Aid Station MI MTG Miles to Next Aid/Handler Sub 9Hr Pace/Time of Day (6AM Start)
#3: Skunk Hollow 12.5 38.57 8.1 / 22.7 2:12/8:52 AM

Of course the sheet would possess appropriate rows for aid Stations 1 and 2 and 4 through 11 as appropriate. What I have tried to do is just give you an idea of what the sheet looks like. My crew knows at all times how many miles I've had between aid stations. They know how many miles IN I will be when I see them and how many miles to go before I see them Next. They can relay this important information to me during the race so that we can prepare for the next section of miles ahead. I typically do not ask how many miles I have left because frankly.. It doesn't matter! What matters is continuing to move forward regardless of the circumstances. Knowing how many miles to the next aid and handler stations is important and deciding what I might want to bring with me while on the run. For the VT50 this year I had three goals. One was Sub-11 Hours, the others were Sub-10 Hours and Sub-9 Hours. Above you see the race run time for Skink Hollow providing I am on pace for a sub 9 hour finish.. and what time of day it should be at the LATEST when I arrive. I make sure that my crew knows that the Pace time is the MAX TIME for that aid station and that I could arrive earlier so be prepared.

Below the spreadsheet for the Vermont 50 was a list of the three handler stations I would arrive at. I then listed a set of instructions for each aid station. For instance, Skunk Hollow said:
Skunk Hollow:
Inform - 22.7 Miles about 4 hours to next Handler Station
Eat 2 Gels - 1 Boost - 1 S! Cap - Refill Bottles - 2 Gels in Handhelds - 4 S! Caps in baggy in HH

At the bottom of the page is a list of Other: instructions I think are necessary for their knowledge.

There are no questions. My crew knows EXACTLY what to do at Skunk Hollow and they do it well. Everything it laid out for them in black and white. They get the binder the night before the race to look it over and ask questions then. Race day is all about efficiency! The less time you spend at an aid station, the quicker you'll finish with a time more suitable to your ultra-goals! For the Vermont 100, the bind is MUCH more complex yet just as easy to read. Each aid station has it's own page where the same information is relayed onto paper just on a larger scale. The longer the race the more there is to do. The more instruction is needed to ensure my crew knows what to be ready for and what to expect. There is NO room for error. If anyone wants a copy of my VT100 Aid Station Pages.. please e-mail me. Happy to share!

The Binder (Cont.):
I include a welcome letter to my crew which is pretty much a nice letter thanking them for being a huge part of my adventure. I explain to them a little about the race, what my goals are and what I expect out of them in their helping me achieve my goals. I then list a set of rules for them to follow just to keep things organized.

I then print a few pages off of the races official website which typically includes the race guidelines and weekend schedule. The General Race Rules and Information, Runners Rules and Instructions, Directions to start finish, Information and Medical Checkpoint procedures (when applicable), a list of ALL of the races aid stations per the race website, Directions to each handler station as well as a print out of the handler guidelines for the race. I also include a few pages of information that I pulled off of the internet from various sources which really sums up what a crew is through the eyes of others.

I put a LOT of time into the binder and it really does pay off. My crew knows exactly what to expect on race day, they know where they need to be, by what time and how to get there. They know what to do when they get there. They know how to care for me. They have ZERO questions and above all else.. all of this combined helps my crew HELP ME succeed in the race. THIS IS THEIR PURPOSE! Take the time to help them so they can help you!

Take Care of Your Crew: (And in turn make sure they take care of themselves)
You need to make sure that your crew brings with them everything and anything that is going to make them comfortable. Camp Chairs for the endless waiting they are about to partake in. Make sure they are comfortable. Make sure that they know to stay fed and hydrated themselves. Again... they are going to be awake just as much as you are (or close to it) and their health and sanity is actually more important than yours! If your crew is degraded, bored ,uninterested, tired, groggy, cranky, hungry or tired.. then how are they to help you when YOU are degraded, bored, uninterested, tired, groggy, cranky, hungry or tired? Invite them to bring a book, magazine, cards, games whatever they need to stay entertained. They are essentially the SS Moveable camp-out! Make them a map of the area so they can take off and get food if needed. I like to make sure my crew has a case of Long Trail Ale. They can drink at leisure, be merry, be happy and feel rested. They only need to feel stressed for 3 minutes about every 2 to 3 hours. ; ) So take care of your crew and they in turn will take care of you!

Training for a 100 or 50 mile event is probably the most conversational and controversial aspect of Ultra Marathon running. It is the ONLY subject where everyone is an expert. Well, I am proud to say that I am NOT an expert nor do I claim to be. I am simply a runner who has great success in achieving my goals. Furthermore, we are all, again, an experiment of one. What works for Scott Jurek does not necessarily work for Karl Meltzer. And what works for Karl Meltzer doesn't necessarily work for Anton Krupicka. All three men train different given the amount of time they have to train, where they live and a select amount of other variables.

I am a 26 Year Old born again college freshman struggling to juggle a full work load at school. I have a part time job and also struggle to maintain free-time to share with my significant other and my family. This balance is VERY delicate and must be considered greatly when trying to determine what training program is going to work for you. Also keep in mind that as you evolve as a runner, so to will your training programs. Your body will continue to adjust (+ or -) to what you continue to put it through. Be mindful that you are NOT a machine and even though you CAN accomplish incredible things, your body is still very much in need of critical care and nurturing.

Here is the list of Weekly Milages leading up to my current race which takes place in 6 days (The McNaughton Park 150 Miler).
January: 30, 57, 55, 67 Total: 209
February: 42, 52, 34, 63 Total: 191
March: 39, 51, 46, 68, 41 Total: 245
April: 33, RACE

I try and use a type of training known as periodization. Periodization is best explained by looking at the example of January through February. The only difference is that I really cranked my miles up a bit faster than is recommended per the program. According to the program, you should only really increase your weekly mileage by 10% at a time. However, again, there are many variables involved on how much and when I can run, what I have planned and living in New England the biggest factor during these tough months is THE WEATHER. Trying to stay injury and illness free is a real chore. I know it is because so far I made it unscathed and ready to race. You'll see by starting with the first week in January that I ran 30 Miles and then upped my miles and held it steady in the mid 50 mile per week range. I ran 55ish miles for two weeks and then increased again to 67. After the 67 mile week I pull pack and run 42 miles. I do this cut back in order to keep training, keep moving and to allow my body a little bit of breathing room to rest.

I then increase from 42 back up to 52 and then cut back again to allow for MORE healing during the training process. This course of action is what I believe helps keep me injury free. After the 34 mile week I'm back to 60+ miles followed by another drastic cut-back. and I continue with this right along up until race day. This is a VERY small and short example of the thoughts on periodization. Typically I'd like it to look more like the following:
January: 35, 40, 45, 50
February: 40, 55, 60, 65
March: 50, 70, 70, 50, 30
April: 15, RACE
Now that I look at it, I would have loved it if this is what it really looked like. However roller coaster-ish my training has been, It has still been effective. I feel ready to go, rested and healthy. Maintaining this status is what works wonders for my attack on the race mentally. Here is what a typical week of training looks like:
Mon: Off
Tues: 8
Wed: 8
Thurs: 4
Fri: 4
Sat: 12
Sun: 15
This was second week of February which saw 51.51 miles of running. The 15 miles on Sunday was actually a local half marathon I tacked a few miles onto pre-race. The key during mid week runs is to work on cadence, leg speed, stride and going through the motions. The Weekends should be reserved for long runs and back to back long runs if possible. as we continue on through the training program you should be increasing your long runs as you go along - mainly on ONE of the two days: Week 1: 12, Week 2: 14, Week 3: 16, Week 4: 18, Week 5: 20, ETC. I also try to run at LEAST ONE 50K (official race or journey run) per month.

This really is all there is to it. Running is running. It is NOT rocket science. If you want to be faster you have to practice by running faster. If you want to run longer you must practice by running longer. Just keep in mind that anything over 4 hours is doing you more harm than good UNLESS your goal is to get "time on your feet." Time on your feet training is why hikers tend to be some of the better ultra-runners. Also, hikers have the ability to really motor up hills where as runners turned ultra-runners tend to run out of steam on the hills. Again, this is just my opinion and why I find that things work for me. The only way to learn is to get out there and practice. Practice BEFORE race day, NOT during the race.

Lastly, I highly recommend that you DO do some hiking or at the very least, practice "power-walking." Most of the people with the sub-24 hour 100 mile times have the times they do not because they run up all the hills.. in fact, not many ultra-runners can or even do run up the hills. The key is that they've practiced power walking. Power walking, though not running, keeps you moving and moving expeditiously forward. Also, try and read as much information as you can about the race you are about to tackle. There isn't a race in this country that hasn't be written about somewhere. Get on running forums, get on the Ultra-List e-mailing list serve and ASK QUESTIONS. Once you have an idea of what kind of terrain your race is going to have, find a place where you can train on as identical to the course as possible. This will help you be prepared both physically and mentally.

These are the basics of training. Start out slow. You are not going to wake up tomorrow and run 100 miles. I started running in 2004. I ran my first 50K in July 2005, my first 50 Miler in September 2006 and my first 100 miler in April 2007. I ran many races in between each distance and made sure I was comfortable with my "mastery" of each distance before I moved along to the next challenge. This in and of itself is what helps me stay injury free and burn out free. I have enjoyed the sport more, I've met more people and I continue to have a passion to move forward. This is key.

Race Stratagies:
My race strategy is simple. I walk ALL of the uphills early and run them late only if I can. I run as much as the downs and flats as possible and if I can't run.. I walk. If I can't walk, I shuffle, if I can't shuffle.. I crawl. Remember, these races are 90% mental and 10% physical. While in a race I have wanted to quit MANY times. But the question is as I read it somewhere recently, "The question of finishing lies within two options: 1.) I Can't or 2.) I Won't." You need to decide, BEFORE the race even starts, just what you are about to go through to get to the finish line. Under what circumstances will you throw in the towel and anything below that... you keep moving forward. THAT is the strategy. I have made it a commitment to myself that the only way I will stop during a race is if it poses a serious threat to my life and/or future well being. If I'm going to suffer today or for the next week.. to hell with it.. LETS GO! Nobody says you have to run the entire race so don't even try. If I have 30 hours to cross the finish line... then I have 30 hours to cross the finish line.

I always make three goals before a race. Goal #1 is always to Finish. Goal #2 is my reasonable time goal which for the VT100 I had set at 26 hours. And Goal #3 is my "Get out of town" time goal which I doubt I can make, which for the VT100 was Sub 24 Hours. With the proper training, my crew prepared and on the same page and my own pre-race preparations... I am confident in accomplishing all three goals. it wasn't far into last years VT100 that I knew today was the day and the "get out of town" goal was going to be met. Everything was working like a well piled machine and let me tell you... this increased my level of enjoyment IMMENSELY.

So take the time and THINK about what you want to accomplish. Lay out your plan from top to bottom. Do your homework. Read read and read some more. Ask questions. Get involved, get others involved and the fruits of your work will fall into your basket. Running is a completely primitive sport. Remember that you are only racing YOURSELF and no one else. Who cares about your time, who cares who you beat.. just beat yourself and achieve the achievable. If it all comes together and you respect the activity and the plan, you too will get what you see below.

The Vermont 100 Mile Endurance Run Sub-24 Hour Belt Buckle.

Well this is it. The last point in this 4 part Ultra Series. Recovery per request from David in Atlanta. Recovery for me is pretty simple. Ultra-Running (especially on trails) is vastly different than your road running nightmare. The amount of pain inflicted on your body in a marathon is much greater than that of a trail ultra (IMHO). Therefore, your recovery time is shorter. I'm not alone in these beliefs again.. ask questions of my fellow ultra runners. They will tell you the same. How else does some people run multiple 100 milers per year?

After a 100 Miler; days 1 is usually spent sleeping and just laying on Couch Island. I like to try and return to normal eating habits AND keep the food down. I also like to talk to people and make sure everyone knows I am ok AND make sure that I can have an opportunity to share my adventure with as many people as I can. (This could also be a travel day). I also try and get in a nice warm bath with epsom salt in the tub. This helps relax my muscles, relieve my body of tension AND clean any blisters or wounds I might have. Day 2, I am typically still walking around very tenderly so I keep the walking to a minimum still. Continue to rest and get back into my daily routine in terms of food, drink, work, etc. I also take another epsom salt bath. Day 3; though I am still not good enough for a run I start walking around town. Today's walk is a slow walk with Sarah thanking her for her support and being "normal people" again. Day 4: I'm back to eating and drinking right again. My legs feel much better and though I am still only walking, I am walking a bit faster around town.

Once my blisters are healed I get back to running by starting off fairly slowly and beginning to work towards my next race. After this months McNaughton 150 I have about 4.5 weeks until my NEXT 100 Miler in Virginia. A week of Recovery, two weeks of training and a week of tapering. Then we race again. The training I do during this time period is critical. Its all I have to prepare for the next event. I must be careful not to push my body into it if it doesn't feel like it is ready yet. Being smart is much better than being tough. Listening to your body is KEY through all of this from start to finish. (That said, I don't know an ultra-runner who truly listens well)

This concludes my 4 part series on Ultra-Gear and Performance. The information provided was done so to provide you with the tools necessary to accomplish your own ultra-goals. It is my hope that you have found them helpful and/or inspirational. Ultra-running is NOT something you just jump into. It requires patience and respect. Do your homework and take your time. Formulate your own plan and remember that whether it be in life or in the race... KEEP MOVING FORWARD. I am more than happy to entertain any and all questions and will most likely answer your questions in future posts. Please contact me anytime by e-mailing me at

I'd love to hear about your own adventures and hope to meet many of you in the very near future. If you see me at a race, please by all means.. Say Hello.

Until then
Happy Trails!