Squamish 50: How I trained for my first ultra

1069845_10151532225501592_916413937_nIn less than two days, I’ll be running through this.

Then I’ll be spending about eight hours runking (running the flat trails and downhills, hiking the uphills… it’s my word of the day, just made it up) up and down this and in this.

Hopefully this will be me at the end. But I’ll most probably end up finishing like this, if I finish at all, that is, considering how many times I’ve eaten dirt (or come close to) on my long trail runs lately; I tend to stop picking up my feet after 5+ hours of running single-track forest trails and stumble over every rock and root in my path.

Naw, I’m pretty excited to race Squamish 50 this weekend, and feel confident I can at least finish. Since this is my first ultra, I don’t have a time goal in mind and have no idea what to expect. My goal is just to finish, relatively unscathed.

I loosely followed this training plan I found online, but only ran about 3-4 days a week. I never missed my long runs (with a five-hour and 20-minute 38k being my longest), and did strength training three days a week. I feel that working my core and lifting weights with a focus on functional movement has seriously improved my running — since I started strength training consistently in December, my easy-run pace has improved by about 35 seconds, and I haven’t had an of the usual aches and pains I get when training for an endurance event.

I did most of my short training runs (usually 8-10k) up and around Swan Lake and Christmas Hill, and my long runs in the Highlands, and around Thetis Lake and Mt. Doug. I would generally just hike any big inclines, as that’s probably what I’m going to do out on the course, which, by the way, looks like this. Holy crap.

For nutrition on my training runs, I would usually take a Vega gel every 45 minutes or so. On my longest run, I also ate half a banana about three hours in, then the other half near the end. I didn’t feel like I wanted/needed/could stomach more than that. I had my 1.5 litre hydration backpack with me, of course, but just filled it with plain ‘ol H20, as I can’t stomach anything else fluid-wise when running. For the race, I have six Vega gels, two bananas and will probably take some kind of bar, just in case. There are a few aid stations on the course offering all the usual fixins’, but I always like to bring my own stuff. You know what they say: don’t try anything new on race day!

Besides nutrition, water, iPhone with new yurbuds, Garmin, my trusty Oiselle roga shorts and Compressport compression socks, I’m also going to bring a little first aid kit with me just in case I do actually bail, get a bad blister or lose a toenail during the race. Jackie, an ultra runner acquaintance of mine, has an excellent blog post about what to pack for first and and foot care for ultra trail races here.

So that’s it. I’ve logged the training miles, packed my gear (race gear AND camping gear… yes, that’s right, I’m camping at the race site — no creature comforts for this girl) and made my eight-hour playlist (we’re allowed headphones during the race, woo hoo!). All that’s left to do now is trust my training and that my body (and mind) won’t let me down.

I feel like I should write something profound here about how pushing your mental and physical limits makes you feel alive, but I think this epic comic and quote from The Oatmeal sums up nicely why I signed up to run 50k in the cougar- and bear-infested mountains of Squamish: “But that’s how it goes with runners: Through pain, we find serenity. The greater the agony, the greater our eventual absolution.”