Open Source Athlete - October Edition

Monday, 1st October 2012

Grand Slam of Ultrarunning wrap up

It has been three weeks since I arrived home from my three-month epic trip to the US to compete in and complete the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning.

The first week home was as expected - lots of coffee catch up's and getting acquainted with mates. Reliving the stories of each race, remembering the adventures, and scrolling through hundreds of photos.

The second week was a bit tougher. Now that the excitement was over, it was time to start living in reality. Suddenly there was grass to be mowed, bills to be paid, pool to be cleaned, and a few dollars to be earned. As I'm sure most people generally experience, and I know that I do on a semi-regular basis, post-anything (holiday, race epic adventure) melancholy usually sets in. However, being away from home for 3 months is a long time, and the post adventure blues were ever more apparent.

Going back to work and thinking about what I was doing two weeks prior to that....running trails in Colorado at altitude, drinking coffee in a cool little coffee shop in a mountain town, watching the season change from Summer to Fall....kind of makes everything else seem a bit hum-ho.

But as time marched on and I found myself into the third week home, I started to get my mojo back; A) for running again, B) for swimming again, C) for planning my training and race goals for next year. I'm still processing and reflecting on what I learnt through my Grand Slam experience. Everything I did was geared towards moving forward. Recover quickly from each race and then focus on the next race – repeat x 3.

Looking back at what I managed to get done in 11 weeks makes me tired just thinking about it. The Grand Slam is about starting and finishing and epic journey. Embarking on the Slam my focus was obviously on ultimately crossing the finish line at Midway, Utah at the end of Wasatch 100. In my mind it was always going to be about running 4 x 100 mile races sustainably.

After Western States 100 it became uncomfortably apparent that there was actually a race on the go. Three of us, Paul Terranova, Jay Smithberger and myself were separated by minutes. Even though I kept telling myself that the right thing to do was to run my own race, I knew I would regret not having a go. What would be the worst that could happen....I would blow up and walk....a lot. The best place to live is outside of your comfort zone. It's the place you learn the most about yourself, it's the place that offers the best experiences, it's the only place where you ever learn as a person.

It could be argued that toeing the line of 4 x 100 hundred milers in 11 weeks is getting of your comfort zone, but I knew the other two guys would be thinking the same thing, and it was this competitive spirit that made this years Slam epic.

With the hype of WS100 over, it was now time to get into a routine of recovery, maintain, build and race. The longest gap I had between 100 milers was last year between Angeles Crest 100 and the Glasshouse 100. Eight weeks separated the two. In the Slam, it was three weeks. There is not a lot of information available as to how to effectively recover and back up for multiple long distance races. What is available is consistent though – less is more, and intensity maintains aerobic capacity. So my strategy was to recover and when I felt like running again, build into it with shorter more intense running on trails.

Typically I would run anything between 60 to 90 minutes with a medium length run of 2 ½ to 3 hours one week out from the next race. Between WS100 and Vermont 100 I lived in Penticton, BC, Canada. So whilst a lot of pre-Slam thought had gone into this strategy, I still wasn't sure if it would be too much running. After WS100 I started running again on the Thursday after the race. Before that I had spent a lot of time doing active recovery like walking, wading in the lake, stretching etc. The week before WS100, I contracted possibly one of the worst head colds I think I have ever had. Probably compounded by the change in temps and slight altitude of 6,000ft at Squaw Valley. By Thursday and Friday before the race, it felt as though I was swallowing glass my throat was so sore. I had a ton of green gunk draining from my nose, and things weren't looking great for the start. Coupled with the fact that the weather forecast was scheduled for one of he coldest starts in over 18 years of the race.

I finished WS100 strongly, but my recovery was compromised. By the Thursday of the following week when I started running again, I was still coughing up phlegm and it really took until Monday to feel myself again.

We arrived in Vermont on the Wednesday before the race. I was cranky and in taper mode. WS100 seemed so far away although in reality it had only been three weeks. As the week ended and the race got underway at 4am on Saturday, I felt as fresh as I could've ever been. I had set a target of 17 hour pace, and was about an hour and a half ahead of that at mile 22. Staying true to my strategy of going out hard and hanging on, I had done just that...going out hard had been easy so far, hanging on was going to be the test. As it turns out I managed to hang on and was pleasantly surprised to finish well below my target time.

After Vermont I felt like the volume of running in between the two races had been perfect. Short, sharp and nothing too taxing! However, 200 miles down, 200 miles to go. It was still a long hard road ahead

As a result of my placing at Vermont, I was super pumped to get running again. On Monday after the race I flew to Pagosa Springs in Southern Colorado where I was staying with a really good mate of mine, Morgan Murri. Morgan was tapering for the Speedgoat 50km on the weekend, so although I started running again on Tuesday after Vermont, it was all basically at taper pace. Still, it was good to be out and running single track at 7,200ft. After Speedgoat, Morgan was committed to running the Goretex Trans Rockies. Perfect. We had two weeks of hard, intense trail running, which included a trip to Leadville to recce Hope Pass and the section from Twin Lakes to Treeline.

By the time Leadville rolled around I was again feeling good to go. Lack of oxygen at the start line wasn't going to be the issue. As it turned out, lack of training to fuel at altitude was, and after a hard 9 hours of racing the wheels fell off and it was a nauseating 50-mile sufferfest. In the overall Grand Slam standings going into Leadville, I was marginally in the lead, however, with the awesome run that Paul T had at Leadville, and my nutritional demise, I was now firmly in 2nd place, and would need a miracle to pull back the 2+ hour deficit.

With only 2 weeks until the notorious Wasatch 100, I reigned in my running slightly. I ran shorter and not nearly as intensely. By now I could feel the 300 miles in my legs and with the hardest race for last, I would need every ounce of energy I could muster.

Mentally I was flat. The thought of toeing the line for another 100 miles made me feel like lying down. I kept feeding myself a positive narrative about looking forward to it, but the truth is, I wasn't.

I didn't feel nearly as fresh as I had for the previous 3 races. This was going to be a test of survival. I was running relatively strongly, however, at about mile 48 into Wasatch fatigue it hit me hard and I never recovered after that. 28 ½ half hours it took to grind through some of the toughest trails around. Even the downhill went up. I felt thoroughly, bone deeply fatigued and weary during this final race and it took everything I could muster to push hour after hour and kilometer after kilometer to finish. I had to constantly break it down into smaller and smaller goals to keep myself motivated. There was nothing romantic about it, it was a constant slog.

That's the Slam – when it hits you is individual, but when it does you are very similarly, and literally Slammed. The truth is that all that suffering made it all the more rewarding, and holding the coveted Eagle Grand Slam trophy all the more satisfying.

By the numbers:

• It took me 88 hours and 25 minutes to run 400 miles (640km).

• I averaged about 200km between each race, so my total training mileage was in the region of 600km.

• Mileage for 11 weeks (training and racing) was about 1200km (rough avg. of 110km per week.)

• Overall mileage since 1st January to Wasatch 100 on the 7th September (which includes the figure above) was approximately 4,000 km

.........which is possibly why it has taken me 3 weeks to get my mojo back.

I have taken a break on publishing my weekly there has been nothing to publish. A few runs here and there, a few swims and a few gym sessions.

For now (as I continue to process and reflect over the next few weeks), I have a few vivid thoughts on training and racing the Grand Slam that I'll take with me moving forward:

- You're better to be underdone than overdone. Less is more in between races in close succession. In hindsight I felt I over-done towards the end of the Slam. Cross training may have been a better solution to keep joints and limb mobility. I don't regret it in the sense that the runs I did were pure enjoyment and on trails all over the US and Canadian Rockies – I loved every minute of it, and it was part of the experience. But from a pure performance perspective I feel I would have raced better if I'd reduced the volume of the running I did in between.

- My biggest surprise is how well I pulled up physically. I didn't have a single injury, not even a blister (throughout or after the races). I put that down to consistent training, using tried and tested gear etc for all my races, and investing in frequent massage, and having a consistently healthy diet (lots of Udo's Oil).

- In preparing for the Grand Slam I thought, prepared, planned and trained for the mental and physical aspects of backing up volume runs. I thought a lot about the effects on my body and also the motivation aspect and I feel like I was reasonably prepared for those. What I didn't factor in, and looking back now it seems such a glaring and obvious error, is how my stomach and digestion system would cope backing up endurance runs in such quick succession. The truth is – it didn't fare well at all. Training runs are just not long enough to simulate when your digestive system will say 'enough!' and the amount of race nutrition you use on training runs, even frequently backed up runs, isn't enough to test when your stomach is going to start rejection.

Flavour fatigue and texture fatigue is not something I've experienced in 100 miling or any other endurance event. If I have one regret it's that I didn't spend more time researching, practicing and anticipating this. I would've had more choice for nutrition in the first two races in particular and also trained with more options. I would have also tried fueling at altitude during some longer training runs.

I'm giving myself a long break (if I can) till early next year. It's been a long 18 months of racing (7 x 100 milers since end March last year, plus and Ironman distance event). However I'm looking forward to training and racing specifically for one event, and toeing the line properly tapered and specifically prepared without the niggling thought of the running sustainably for the race after that one. It will be good to have a Red Hot Go!


#4 Paul Petch 2012-10-30 08:45
Brilliant Mike. Well done!
#3 Ted 2012-10-02 00:08
"Best place to live is outside your comfort zone"... Brilliant, love it, gonna have to steal that one. Well done Mike, you might be back home down south but you have left inspiration all over North America. Absolutely epic performance.
#2 Stu 2012-10-01 18:00
Mike, that is such an awesome effort. It is absolutely amazing to think what 1 person can achieve. Super human effort and even better to read about. Enjoy the rest and look forward to reading the weekly sessions for your next event!
#1 Shane 2012-10-01 16:35
Awesome read Mike. great to learn what goes into such an amazing performance and epic race series. Well done mate you killed it regardless

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