Monday, September 5, 2011

Sawtooth Strategy

I spent the better part of my Labor Day thinking about and planning for my race this weekend. Much of this has been menial tasks like prepping my drop bags, predicting arrival times at aid stations for my crew (my wife, Ruthie, bless her heart), and packing.

Some of my time has also been spent on visualizing how I will handle certain race day decisions: some inevitable, some avoidable.

Unavoidable events that will NOT cause me to drop:

1) Pain. This one falls into the inevitable category. I can't imagine anyway at anytime that I could cover 102.6 miles on the Superior Hiking Trail without experiencing a good deal of pain. It would just be wrong of me to register for a race that will definitely cause pain and then drop out when the pain comes. I recently read Marshall Ulrich's account of his transcontinental run. In it he compares ultra running to a climb up Everest he once made. During the climb, one of the Russians in his team was ostracized for complaining about cold fingers. You don't climb Everest and complain about cold fingers. You don't run ultras and complain about sore legs. This includes my shin splints, by the way, which are getting better everyday.

2) Emotional lows. This is really just a type of pain, isn't it? It's also inevitable. The key is to recognize that this is a low point and is likely to be followed by an emotional peak. Unlike the pain, the low points will go away eventually.

Avoidable events that WILL cause me to drop.

1) An acute injury: severely sprained ankle, broken leg, concussion, that sort of thing. These are unlikely, but could happen, especially on the Superior Hiking Trail. If there is an ambulance there to take me away, I will drop.

2) Missing a cutoff time. Hopefully I won't encounter this problem, but if I miss a cut off time, I will respect the race rules and drop out. My predicted race times are hours away from the posted cut off times. If this does happen it is because something has gone seriously wrong.

Avoidable events that MAY cause me to drop.

1) Heat related problems such as dehydration or hyponatremia. It looks like Friday at least will be relatively warm. I've seen highs for the area reaching 80. I'm not too worried as most of the course is well shaded, and I'm hopeful that the dew point, at least, will be reasonable. Either way, this is an avoidable problem and I will be very cautious of it. At the first signs of problems, I will chill out at an aid station until I get back to where I should be. Of course, that could lead to missing a cutoff time.

2) Stomach issues. This could be a problem. I've not done a 100 mile race before, and don't know how my stomach will handle it. I've heard horror stories from others. The good news is my stomach is usually pretty solid as long as I'm not going too fast or working too hard. I'll eat early and go slow. Again, if this problem does occur, I plan on using my time at an aid station to solve it.

Are they any other potential issues I'm not thinking of? Please let me know.


  1. Be sure to be prepared for colder weather. Typically, as a 100-miler wears on, I have a much harder time keeping my body temperature under control.....meaning, I tend to get very, very cold even if it's not that cold out. Just something to be aware of. Just to be safe, I'd have some warm shirts/jacket, hats, and gloves at the ready. Good luck!

  2. Anonymous beat me to it. Working an aid station there at night, I wore every article of clothing I brought and sat next to a campfire and I was still cold.

    Probably the one critical factor that's a problem is making sure you have lighting when you need it. There's some funny (and scary) stories of guys who had their lamps one drop bag too far away.

  3. I just found out there's a spot in Tettegouche called Ross's Crack!

    Somehow, I'm going to have to work it into a post that I went to tettegouche and saw Ross's Crack.

  4. Ha. According to the link, Ross' Crack is 10 feet west of the Dance of the Sugar Plum Faeries. Sounds about right.

    And yes, I've got some cold weather gear packed. I've noticed that despite near record highs during the day, they are still predicting lows possibly into the 40s. Good advice for my crew, too.