With summer fading into a distant memory, you may already be reminiscing about sitting around the campfire under the stars. No matter what your age, those memories of being outside next to the crackling fire never seem to fade. Now imagine you’ve just finished a full day of running camp with Jeff Browning aka “Bronco Billy” and Karl “Speedgoat” Meltzer.
Author Amy Clark
I sit here writing as three of my favorite trail systems across Oregon are being devastated by wildfire. As a former wildland firefighter, I understand that what may seem like a catastrophe can actually benefit an ecosystem. But as a trail runner, I continue to struggle with the fact that the lush trails full of thick vegetation and old growth trees are being scorched and burned away.
There’s a voice that often pops inside my head every time I’m out on a run. It says, “Why aren’t you tough enough?” If I successfully avoid these negative whispers, it’s because I summited a butte without pausing to catch my breath, or conquered a trail at full force. Those days are few and far between, but when they do happen I feel like I can do anything. Like I am tough. Unfortunately, that voice of doubt always seems to return.
Stress is a topic I’m not fond of. For years, running has helped me deal with it during blowups at the office, riffs at home or just plain, rotten days. Hopping on the trail with a friend can ease the pressure with a little sunshine, fresh air and welcome distraction. On the flip side, there are times when a big dollop of cortisol gets tossed at me and causes my running to cease completely.
It’s not hard to draw upon those cherished memories of “firsts” – first kiss, first love or the birth of your first child. Endorphins likely flooded your system as the thrill and excitement of each moment became palatable. Now, forget all of those. In the sport of ultrarunning, there’s another set of firsts you’re likely to experience and want to forget (but won’t be able to), all for the desperate pursuit of capturing some more coveted endorphins. Here’s a list of few firsts that come with running an ultra, and how to take them in stride.
As Bend, Oregon sat under 37 inches of snow this past winter, Ryan Kaiser was at home putting in miles on the treadmill. He’s now convinced that low impact running helped him reach the highest level of fitness he’s ever seen. And it shows. With recent wins last month at the Tillamook Burn 50-mile and Gorge Waterfalls 50K, along with earning his golden ticket at Sean O’Brien 100K, he’s looking forward to heading back to Squaw for the big dance in June.
Waking up to my alarm at 5 a.m. isn’t hard these days. In the wee hours, my body knows that a grueling struggle is near triggering an internal wake-up call. Long gone are the days where I lie in the darkness, my mind spinning to justify another hour of sleep instead of getting up to run. This last weekend was no exception, and this time I had friends to hold me accountable.
Goals are funny. They’re hard to let go of, whether you succeed or fail. A Harvard study suggests, “The sense of competence resulting from successful goal achievement encourages students to set more challenging goals and eventually adopt goal directed mindsets.” Sound familiar? As a runner, my natural inclination was to follow in my father’s footsteps and run a marathon. Once that goal had been checked off, my sights were set on qualifying for, and finishing Boston (like most marathoners).
Last spring while training for my first 100K, I became dependent on Strava – an app built for just about everyone logging a daily athletic endeavor. Not only was I tracking my mileage but also time, elevation and routes, as well. This had been the perfect tool to help me record the simple data I needed during each of my training runs. I even had Strava friends who were giving me daily “kudos.” Needless to say, it pretty much became my new favorite social network. And then, I got injured.
We’ve all had good races and bad races, but volunteering in an ultra is going to be good 99% of the time – even in bad weather. Lending a hand allows you be a part of an amazing group of people who are there to support a bunch of incredible runners who’ve been training for months. And that feeling you get when you’re a part of something so awesome, well, that’s what it’s all about.
The beginning of 2017 brought with it a with a flurry of snowflakes and frigid temperatures, and the west coast was hit hard. We were then blind-sided again without a reprieve from warmer weather. So what’s a girl to do when training for a spring 100K while heading into the next ice age? Here’s what I’ve learned so far.
There’s nothing like the nostalgia of pulling out an old race t-shirt. And the smell. Soon, it earns a permanent spot, tucked away in a drawer never to be worn again. With a new year ahead, it’s a perfect time to re-evaluate gear for the upcoming year. What needs to be replaced, and what investments should be made for the upcoming race season? What worked well? What didn’t?
A training plan from the internet might be suitable to get you to the finish line of your next big race, or it might not. If you’ve recently felt like you gave it your all, yet didn’t reach that goal time you’d been hoping for, maybe it’s time you thought about hiring a coach (or asking for one for Christmas).
I’ll admit it. When it comes to ultrarunning, I’m a fangirl. Never in a million years could I have predicted I would be anxiously awaiting updates on Twitter during the Barkley Marathons, while sick in bed with the flu. Or bringing my laptop along on vacation so I could watch a livestream of the Western States 100 finish line.
Let’s face it, it’s been a rough year. With the sudden passing of iconic artists like David Bowie and Prince as well as a heated presidential election, it might not be so difficult to say goodbye to 2016. The human spirit can spiral downward quickly, and it’s up to us to use the tools we have – like running – to bring it back up.
With daylight savings time rapidly approaching, it’s not uncommon for thoughts about running to turn dark. And there’s no doubt that it takes some adjustment to running at night and in the early morning hours, especially on the trails. I got to experience my first “overnight ultra” while pacing at Western States 100 this year, and even though I’ve trained in the dark in the past, there were a few things I learned.
It was over year and a half ago when I volunteered as a broadcast crew member for Ultra Sports Live (USL.tv) during the Gorge Waterfalls 100K and witnessed someone with a GoPro camera flying up and down the trail, filming the lead runners from behind. He wasn’t dressed in running gear and he certainly wasn’t racing, but there was no mistaking him – he was a ginger.
As ultrarunners, we can experience loss after crossing a finish line, not finishing a race (or starting, for that matter) or not being chosen in a lottery. Because of the amount of time we invest in ultramarathons, the losses run deeper and therefore take more time to recover from. Fortunately, the healing process can turn each of us into a stronger, more determined athlete.
When asked about her initiation into the sport, elite runner Amy Sproston mentioned a group of female ultrarunners in Washington D.C. who helped her get the bug. She began by training with them on trails throughout the east coast, and eventually, found herself running internationally.
In the Cascade Mountain Range of Oregon, is a pristine alpine lake named Waldo surrounded by peaks over 7,000 feet high. Inspired by the Oregon Trail Series, a couple of cool guys set out to create a 100K race unlike any other in the state. What did they name it? Where’s Waldo, of course, with each peak offering stunning summit views of the second largest natural lake in Oregon.
“Desiree, you can’t lie down. There are scorpions all around, and they’ll sense your heat.” It was the second night of the Badwater 135 and Desiree Marek was 95 miles into this year’s race (her first) and going on 36 hours of no sleep. All she wanted to do was sit down.
Runners are different. We’ve got unique coping mechanisms which help us hurdle through our training. I’ve got friends who won’t slow down until their watch reads “.00” after the last mile. Some run religiously seven days a week, while others train on flat surfaces to avoid slower times on Strava.
Last weekend, I literally stepped beyond the screen I had watched so intently while following the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run online. I’ve never missed a live feed of the finish line as the winner makes his way around the Placer High track, and I streamed the race again this year. Only this time, it was in an Auburn hotel during a brief break from crewing and pacing.