Inside Trail’s Marin Ultra Challenge 50-Mile Race Report

“Mountain Dew. You sweet, sweet nectar of the gods” is something I only say at mile 44 of a 50-miler. I mean, really- who drinks this stuff on the regular? Okay, bad question- I already know the answer to that (video gamers, computer programmers, people with type 2 diabetes, college kids pulling all-nighters, maybe truckers that can’t find meth) but I’ll be damned if this stuff isn’t rocket fuel. Just gimme three fingers of that unnatural yellow fizzy liquid at the last aid station and I’m good to go.

You might be wondering “well, what happened the previous 43 miles?” and I’ll get to that. First, let’s talk about the weather.

Wet and misty Headlands (photo courtesy of Jesse Ellis, Let's Wander Photography)

Wet and misty Headlands (photo courtesy of Jesse Ellis, Let’s Wander Photography)

The forecast all week had been saying high of 57, low of 50 with scattered showers, turning heavy in the afternoon. Winds from 10-20 mph with stronger gusts expected.

Okay, I’ll be wet. It might be cold.

So, gloves in each drop bag. Arm warmers, too. Two lightweight water repellent jackets. Extra buff. Change of clothes and a towel in finish line drop bag. Lots of lube. Okay, I can do this. I’m not going to let the weather psyche me out here, I was just running in waist deep snow on Mt. Tallac in the Sierras, I think I can handle some “rain”.

But that’s the thing about rain- there’s so many different kinds of rain. There’s the light mist of rain; that’s what we got early morning. Then there’s pleasant drizzle as the morning went on, the kind that gets you “barely wet” and makes it look like crystal dew drops on everything. Then there’s sideways rain, pelting you like hail, coming out of the wind on top of Dias Ridge, miles 37 & 38. Then there’s the drenching, holy shit I can’t see five feet in front of me torrential downpour rain; on “Wile E. Trail”- this unnamed single track between Middle Green Gulch and Miwok Cutoff- probably named “Coyote Ridge Cutoff” says Inside Trail RD Tim Stahler, per course designer Jim Vernon. Get it? Wile E. Coyote. Coyote Ridge. Just go with it people, it works.

That was right around mile 41-42, and that right there was the impetus to get moving. I stopped to pee right at the exact moment the sky opened up, immediately it soaked through my water repellent (not “water resistant”) jacket and I started to shiver. I thought, “nope, not getting hypothermia today”.

But let me back up a minute- I should go back to the beginning. I’ll go back to earlier in the week, when coming up with an actual race strategy. Yeah, that’s it. Okay, here’s the race report:

I had to ask myself honestly “what did I want to do at this race?” Or, more specifically “what can I do with this race that will get me more ready for Bighorn 100?”

I didn’t care about finishing in the top 10 or setting a new 50-mile PR, so those are off the table. What are my goals? I kept thinking back to my training before San Diego 100. Everyone kept telling me the best 100-mile training is just “spending time on your feet” or “continual progress”. Yep, just spend some time on my feet and make progress.

Okay, here’s my goals:

  • I wanted to go around 10 hours
  • I wanted to run somewhat even splits
  • I wanted to be very conservative the first half and then start to push it the second 25
  • I wanted to do the last 10k in under an hour

So that meant a lot of power-hiking, and a lot of power-hiking early in the race. I know that sounds counter-intuitive, but every race I run it seems I fall into the trap of pushing it too soon and paying dearly for it. I remembered David Laney’s UTMB race report detailing how he basically “chilled for the first 50, then it was hammertime”. So I did my best to chill the first half, every time someone passed me I had to resist the urge to race. “Be patient” I kept telling myself, “it’s not time to race…”

This really worked out well for me, considering I actually negative split this race.

Wait… what?

Choogling down through them redwoods (photo courtesy Jesse Ellis, Let's Wander Photography)

Choogling down through them redwoods (photo courtesy Jesse Ellis, Let’s Wander Photography)

Yeah, this is kind of crazy. I ran the first 25 miles in 5:12:47 and the second 25 in 5:10:12. Okay, that’s a bit misleading- there was way more climbing the first half of the race, but the weather was way worse in the second half. But I think I’m going to try this strategy again at Canyons 100k, maybe do the first 50k in something like seven hours, really hold back and save my legs, then go hard.

Then that last goal- to go from Tennessee Valley aid station (mile 43.8) to the finish in under an hour. That’s a tough 10k, starting up Marincello, a 700-foot climb for the first 1.4 miles. Then it’s all downhill, baby. I did that section in 58:55.

Let’s talk next about nutrition, and the idea of “nothing new on race day”- yeah, I didn’t do that today. I tried a lot of new things. One thing I tried was some new gels called Hüma, they’re pretty tasty and have some fat in them (in the form of chia seeds). They’re an all natural puree of blended fruit with some amino acids, I tried the Mangoes and Lemonade- both were super good. I’ve been wanting to incorporate more fat into my race day nutrition, the last time I had tried that was at the North Fork 50-miler in Colorado in 2013, I did the first half of that race all on nut butters. I had a decent result that day, don’t know why I abandoned something that worked.

So I tried the nut butters again today- the Boggs Trail Butter Expedition Espresso, and man they are tasty! They’re not the easiest to swallow, definitely took a few extra gulps of water to get it all down but damn, they’re good. I’ll be incorporating more fats into my race day nutrition from now on. If I eat mostly fat in my daily life, I should fuel with more of it come race day…

It’s no secret that I’ve been doing the lower carb / high fat diet for about three years now, and I gotta say ever since making the switch to eating this way and sticking to it I’ve experienced feeling better all around. That is when I stick to it.

For the uninitiated, high fat doesn’t mean paleo, or “lots of meat”, it means simply: avocados, olives, seeds, nuts, oils, butter, full fat yogurt, sour cream, heavy whipping cream and coconut milk. I’ve figured out a way to incorporate all of these foods into my daily diet in such a way that I don’t have to only eat bacon and eggs or cheeseburgers all the time. I love that shit, but they get old real quick when you’re an omnivore.

I feel like I can finally talk about this now, so mad props to Jeff Browning for coming out a few months ago and talking about his switch to the LCHF diet and what prompted that- the dreaded Candida Albicans infection.

Only a few people close to me know that I’ve been a Candida sufferer for almost 10 years now, and while the bacteria that creates the infection will never go away completely (you actually need some of the candida bacteria in you, you actually need a lot of different bacteria in you all the time) I feel way more comfortable talking about it now. For whatever reason I was embarrassed to admit that I have a full body yeast infection from time to time that completely zaps my energy, gives me uncontrollable itching from rashes, upsets my stomach, causes insomnia and generally makes my life suck for the few weeks it comes back.

It always comes back when I go to heavy on the carbs, sugars and processed foods. This is why it’s become imperative that I stick to eating mostly fat- I’ve sabotaged races trying to cram in a day or two of “carbo loading” beforehand and felt like absolute shit on race day.

That being said before (and after) my races these days I hit the probiotics heavy because I know I’m going to ingest a ton of sugar on race day, and I’ve got to give my impaired gut a chance to fight what makes it ail.

I switched over to Generation Ucan last year after using Vitargo on and off for a few years and for whatever reason, Vitargo never fully agreed with me. Ucan, on the other hand, is quality stuff. I started the morning off with a large coffee with 2 tbsp of Kerrygold butter, 2 tbsp of coconut oil and 2 ounces of heavy whipping cream, of course. Then an hour before the start I went with a Vespa and three servings of Ucan. That’s a 685 calorie breakfast + 18 calorie Vespa + 240 cals of Ucan putting me on the start line with 940+ calories in my stomach.

I then went with a serving of Ucan every 45 minutes, supplementing with a Trail Butter at 3:30 and hour seven. I used the two chia gels in there before big climbs- one at Heather Cutoff and another at Willow Camp, and took 2 more Vespas at miles 15 and 30. On the way into Muir Beach I took a Salted Caramel Gu, then some homemade Lime Gu on the way into TV, where I had that sweet, terrible nectar of the angels, Mountain Dew. I took two more servings of homemade Gu on Marincello and finally a lemon Roctane at hour ten.

All told, 943 calories pre-race and 1,680 calories during, which breaks down to roughly 168 calories per hour while running- I can’t do the 250-300 per hour I’ve heard recommended, that’s definitely not going to work for me.

Stomach felt amazing all day, had a lot of energy and was totally happy the entire time- not a single negative thought the whole day. That’s rare for me, I always seem to go to a rotten, shitty place, especially during a ten-hour run.

Oh, and the chafing I experienced in my nether regions was horrificly epic, I apologize to the Muir Beach volunteers for putting them in an awkward situation. Thank you all for turning your heads when I requested you not look at me for a second and what I was about to do with that gob of Vaseline.

Out into the fog (photo courtesy Jesse Ellis, Let's Wander Photography)

Out into the fog (photo courtesy Jesse Ellis, Let’s Wander Photography)

At around ten hours of continuous running, on the road along the Rodeo Beach Lagoon, those last two miles towards the finish, the thought hit me “did I have fun today?”

Hell yeah, I had fun!

I chatted with some awesome people; gave so many high fives; told so many jokes, most of which were only funny to me because it’s the usual potty humor anyway and the occasional knock-knock joke; I jumped in so many puddles; heard a huge branch fall in Muir Woods that made the loudest crash I’ve ever heard in the forest; went up and down so many god-damned steps- Wolf Ridge, Dipsea, Bootjack and Ben Johnson; was happy there weren’t too many hikers and almost no mountain bikers on the trails and made so many new memories, so yeah I had fun today!

You know, sometimes the object when you’re racing isn’t always to get from point A to point B in the shortest amount of time.

Sometimes it’s totally okay to simply enjoy each moment.

Or get really, really wet and muddy.

Upon finishing, I consumed a bowl of chili, a bowl of vegetable lentil and a chicken apple sausage. (photo courtesy Mark Tanaka)

Upon finishing, I consumed a bowl of chili, a bowl of vegetable lentil soup and a chicken apple sausage. Then we told war stories. (photo courtesy Mark Tanaka)

Strava stats

Then I got changed so I could stop shivering, and we partied. (photo courtesy Mark Tanaka)

Then I got changed so I could stop shivering, and we partied. (photo courtesy Mark Tanaka)

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1 Response to Inside Trail’s Marin Ultra Challenge 50-Mile Race Report

  1. Gareth says:

    Fantastic post! Really enjoyed reading and well done on the race 🙂

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