Almost two years ago, on October 20th 2012, I ran my first race. I had never toed the line before—not even a 5k—before running the Foothills Frenzy 50k in Boise, ID. My longest run to date had been a 14-mile training run. The results were mixed (I finished in 49th place clocking in just over six hours) but it was a great experience and I’ve been hooked on trail running and racing ever since.
This weekend, almost two years later, I’ll be running the Foothill Frenzy 50k again. A lot has changed in that relatively short amount of time, most of which has been lessons I learned out on the trail and in the mountains. Looking back at the things I learned the past two years has led to a couple conclusions: a) I really, really didn’t know what I was doing back in 2012 and b) despite being a completely different runner now, chances are I still have no idea what I’m doing.
Electrolytes are good. I had never even heard of an S! Cap back in 2012. I had no idea that anyone supplemented with electrolytes. As I came into the final aid station at mile 27.5 one of the volunteers asked me if I had been taking any salt and after I gave him an exhausted, blank stare for a couple of seconds, handed my a couple S! Caps and sent me on my way. Now I toss back three of those bad boys every 30-45 minutes depending on the weather. Yeah, I sweat a lot.
Soda is a lifesaver during an ultra. In 2012, I got to the aid station at the top of the first big climb and I was feeling pretty dehydrated. I snatched a cup of Mountain Dew off of the table that I thought was yellow Gatorade and almost spewed it all over a volunteers face when it hit my taste buds. Soda has never been a part of my diet and I couldn’t fathom why anyone would want to drink it—ever. Until I started to realize that when your stomach is upset and you’ve been running for hours and can’t handle any more gels, soda can be the perfect way to get some sugar into your bloodstream while giving your digestive system a break and possibly settling your stomach with a little carbonation at the same time. I went from spitting out soda to almost solely relying on it for fuel during some races.
You can’t run fast on technical trails in Vibram Five Fingers. Yeah, I ran my first Ultra in Vibrams. Back then, I was fresh off of reading Born to Run and I had been romanticized by Chris McDougal’s endless touting of minimalist footwear. Sure, it sounds good and wearing those Vibrams probably helped me establish much better running form than I had previously but the fact of the matter is, if you wanna run fast downhill and there’s rocks on your trail. You’re going to need some more cushioning. Most of my training runs back then were ended by aching feet or bruised heels—not exactly the most efficient way to build your fitness.
Fanny Packs aren’t cool. I referred to my fanny pack as a “lumbar pack” back in 2012 but we all know what those things really are. I carried my water sloshing around on my lower back for the full 31 miles that day—and it was only one 20 ounce bottle. At least now I know there’s at least three better ways to carry that bottle. We’ll all be spared the fanny pack.
You don’t need all those clothes! At the race start in 2012 I was superbly overdressed. Sure, it was like 40 degrees but I was actually wearing Nike Hyperwarm running tights with 9” running shorts over the top of them, three layers on top with cotton gloves and a beanie. I probably would have been comfortable on Denali in March. This year, I’m planning on wearing some Patagonia baggies and a buff.