Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Little moments in ultrarunning

I'm a PhD student in information science, and some of my research deals with the information behavior of ultrarunners—what information we use and how we use it as part of our running. Sometimes it's a matter of solving a problem (for instance, an injury), sometimes it's about improving our performance or enjoyment, sometimes it's about planning out seasons or finding new races, and sometimes it's just about entertainment. Everything we do involves information of one kind of another.

I conducted some research at a 100 mile race last year, and one of the questions I asked the runners in a pre-race survey was: Tell me about a recent time in training or a race when a specific piece of information came in handy. What I got was a smattering of little moments in ultrarunning. As one participant observed, "Little tips are usually HUGE. Like having a small towel at drop points."

In that spirit, I present here a list of times where runners used information on the run. It gives a nice, kaleidoscopic view into what's involved in running an ultra. Give it a read or a skim, and you might even discover a "little tip" for yourself.
  • I read a blog where a guy ran a 100 mile, and he used Ensure. I tried it and it works great!
  • In training, experimenting with nutrition used information about fructose and glucose absorbsion pathways
  • Pre-running the course or part of the course, practice with the gear I will use and make tweaks
  • Dealing with fueling issues based on symptoms that I addressed quickly and moved beyond
  • Music is helpful when I'm tired or bored
  • Take care of blisters immediately—check! 
  • Tailwind can replace GU and save you in the heat—that has worked for the most part
  • The personal stories I have heard actually help me through many moments. It's going to be hard.
  • I recently was pacing my husband during his 100 miler. It had rained all day and the trail conditions were muddy and washed out, meaning really horrible footing. I recalled an article I read about driving from our hips so I just focused on propelling through the mud using my glutes and hip flexors rather than small muscles in my lower leg. It really seemed to help by just switching my focus on where the effort was coming from.
  • Not taking sports drink at aid stations (stomach problems).
  • I bought Pop Tarts instead of honey stinger waffles.  They're basically the same thing, but a fraction of the price and they work great!
  • Changed hydration system to a vest instead of a belt.
  • As I've started doing longer training runs, information about nutrition (especially calories per hour) has come in handy, especially that coming from online interviews with other ultra runners.
  • Eat often and intake something sweet and something salty at each aid station. Even when I'm not hungry, every ultra I run I will eat sweet/salty combo at every aid station, and I that keeps me eating and my electrolyte balance in check.
  • Listening to your body during a training plan and knowing when to dial back to avoid burnout or injury. Training plans are great, but not tailored to your lifestyle, so modification is necessary, and often.
  • Adding layers for the night leg of my last 100, based on the weather forecast.
  • I train mostly by heart rate so it's handy to know what it feels like when I'm in certain HR zones and whether or not to push hills, push downhills, etc. During a race, constant weather evaluation, coupled with body signals and time of day, is always good for determining clothing changes to ward off potential disasters, like hypothermia or heat stroke.
  • My training plan came in handy because it helped me make sure I was getting the miles I needed and staying on track.
  • Usually I find some inspiring ultrarunner's story and use it as motivation!
  • My first hundred miler, I sensed that I was chafed and experiencing hot spots around the 25th mile. I adjusted my pace accordingly until I had gotten to the next aid station at mile 30 to thoroughly assess. I found I had blistered up quite intensely, so I modified my strategy with the goal of completing the race hours after my targeted time of sub-24 hours. Understanding the true severity of my challenge and the risk I faced of not completing the remaining 70 miles on blisters with limited resources in the race was very useful.
  • Distance to next aid station so I knew how much water and nutrition I need to carry with me.
  • I carefully count calories to make sure I do not go over what my stomach has tolerated in the past.
  • Lost on a training run, had to refer to map and align with altimeter on watch and GPS track back location to get my bearings.
  • I almost never use bug spray, but everyone else was putting it on before a run last weekend, and I had some "hippie" (ie non-chemical, plant based, organic) spray in my bag. I'm glad I used it because I got a few bites, but there were clouds of mosquitoes.
  • You can throw up midrace to reset the stomach and continue on in the race.
  • During Three Days of Syllamo I was very aware of looking for course markers since I had read in several race reports that previous runners had said it was easy to get lost.
  • Self assessment, minor cramping, how to address, selectrolytes, water and slow down some.  
  • In my last 50k I know how long each section should take to know if I'm on pace for a PR.
  • Getting drenched & becoming hyperthermic.  I realized I needed better rain gear
  • Knowing the course helped me be able to plan my race.
  • I plan to use an article on heat training from UltraRunning Magazine for a 100 mile event I am doing in July.

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