I’m not a veteran Ultra Runner but there is a way to mitigate this weakness a little bit. “Proper planning and preparation prevents piss poor performance,” as the saying goes. Every bit of information you could wish for has been shared in some form on Facebook groups, various blogs, YouTube videos, or podcasts. If what you are looking for is not available already, there are thousands of people you can ask about it. For example, here is Part 1 about my WTM race strategy and how it played out.
Here I want to share the results of my research, how it worked out for me, what factors to consider, and what I would do differently next time. I strongly encourage everyone to never rely on only one source of information but to seek out the advice and opinions of several people. What works for one person might not work for the other.
- Read and watch every piece of material that WTM veterans have shared on their blogs, Facebook, or YouTube. The various Facebook groups are a gold mine of information as well. Check out the “Files” tab in the groups for additional documents.
- Test gear and fuel during long runs or other races (e.g. Ultra Beast) before using it at WTM
- Taper off of coffee for a while, down to zero caffeine at least a week prior to WTM (decaf if necessary), no other caffeine either
- Be ready for piercing headaches, depending on how high your daily coffee intake was to start with
- Not really carb loading (personal preference)
- Having a few hundred calories more in your glycogen stores will not make a big difference if you are staying on top of your caloric intake during the race. Carb loading makes me feel bloated and heavy.
I truly believe that your mind is what drives your body and it will tell you to stop long before your body has reached its limits. Your mind wants to protect the resources available to it and does not want you to literally run yourself into the ground by running for 24 hours like a maniac. One of the methods to override this part of your brain (call it Central Governor or whatever else you prefer) is to have mantras at hand which you can repeat to yourself again and again. Here are some of mine:
- Flow, not force. Bend, don’t break. Determined, not desperate.
- Conquer yourself.
- “Be great in act as you have been in thought”
- “Warriors don’t slouch into battle”
- “Focus on the process, not the outcome”
- “Not being able to govern events, I govern myself”
- Ugly but effective. It’s a good bad day.
- Triumph can’t be had without struggle.
- Positive, patient, persistent. Cool, calm, collected.
- More machine than man. Forge ahead.
- Visualize being something unstoppable.
Here are some visuals Taylor created to throw in my face should I need it during the race:
Mental Focus during Racing
- Stay injury free, even when you are ambitious. A broken body can’t move.
- Stay on pace, even when you feel strong. It won’t last. Stick to the plan.
- Stay lubed, even when you don’t think you need to. Once you notice, it’s too late.
- Stay fueled, even when you don’t think you need to. Once you notice, it’s too late.
- Stay hydrated, even when you don’t think you need to. Once you notice, it’s too late.
- Stay in the fight, even when your mind tells you to quit. Run through your mental checklist. Pain does not equal injury.
- Going out too fast during initial Start
- Keeping a too fast pace during Sprint Hour
- Not adjusting pace to the terrain appropriately
- Hydrate/Eat too soon or too late on course (esp. considering the only water station was about 2mi in)
- Hydrate/Eat too much or too little (some pointers on this can be found in Part 1 of my WTM blog posts)
- Wasting time with unnecessarily long pit stops
- Applying to little lube or not thoroughly enough
- Putting the wet suit on too soon (very rarely a severe issue) or too late (potentially fatal mistake)
- Putting additional gear (windbreaker, neoprene cap/hood/gloves/socks) on too late
- Not having a clear plan/order of operation/communication with your pit crew
Whatever gear I could not test during other races was tested during specific simulations. For example, I did run in my wet suits at the beach in Santa Cruz as well as on a running track.
Two is one and one is none. If anything gets lost or broken you will want a backup. This is especially true for essential items like lights and wet suits. If you purchase during deals or go hunting on REI Garage Sales you often find gear a lot cheaper than at normal retail prices. Wetsuit Wearhouse is a WTM community favorite for sure.
This table shows all of my gear as far as I remember but the pictures below show the full load out of gear I brought with me.
|Baselayer||Neoprene Head||Neoprene Body||Neoprene Legs/Feet||Neoprene Hands|
|2XU Longsleeve compression shirt||2mm Billabong Solution Neo Cap||5/3mm Xterra Vector Pro Fullsuit||NeoSport Polyfleece pants||3mm NHS Maverick Gloves|
|Nike Pro Combat compression tights||2mm Billabong Furnace Carbon X Hood||3/2mm Orca SwimRun Core Shorty + arm sleeves||2mm NeoSport Neoprene Water Socks||5mm HyperFlex ACCESS Wetsuit Gloves|
|Injinji Compression OTC 2.0 Socks||1.5mm SUPreme COLD STROKE Beanie Cap||2mm Hyperflex Cyclone Short John||1mm WETSOX Thermal Round Toe Wetsuit Sock||6mm Hyperflex Mesh Skin Oven Mitt, X-Large|
|Salomon S-Lab Sense 5 Ultra SG||1.5mm SUPreme REACH Wetsuit Jacket – Front Zip|
|Quicksilver Heater Longsleeve Polyfleece|
|Lights||Running Accessories||Wind Protection||Foodtime|
|Black Diamond Storm 2016 headlamp||Running belt||Cheap Windbreaker jacket||Snickers|
|Black Diamond Storm 2014 x 2 headlamp||Garmin Fenix 3 HR GPS watch||Cheap Windbreaker pants||Beef Jerky|
|Strobe Light (3x)||Oakley sunglasses||Clif Bars|
|Paracord to tie the lights to the bib||Kind Bars|
|Petzl e+Lite headlamp||Bonk Breaker Bars|
|Extra batteries||Tailwind Naked Flavor|
|Tailwind Berry Flavor Caffeinated|
|Warm weather clothes||Personal Care||Tent/Pit||Cellucor Amino Acid|
|Mad Grip Gloves||Gurney Goo/Trail Toes||REI Half Dome 2 Plus||Clif Shot Bloks|
|Mechanix Gloves||Aquaphor/ Yellow Gold Bond powder mix (1:4; until it’s gray)||Sleeping bag||Run Gum Caffeine Gum|
|Buff||Chapstick||Air mattress||Succeed S-Caps Salt Pills|
|Goggles||Sunscreen spray||Heavy duty space blanket||GU Energy Gels|
|CWX TraXter tights||Baby wipes||Post-race clothing||Honey Stinger Gels|
|Towels||Post-race shoes||Hammer Gels|
|Tums Antacid||Post-race jacket|
|Anti-nausea||Black Diamond Apollo lantern|
|Naproxen (painkiller)||Hand warmers|
|Turmeric||Space blanket with hood|
|Roller stick||Space blanket|
|Band-aids||Thin emergency blanket|
|Hydrogen peroxide (disinfectant)||Camping chair|
|Medical scissors/Trauma shears|
|Labeled bags for night ops, storm, day ops, etc.|
I didn’t change out of this for 14 Laps:
- Salomon S-Lab Sense 5 Ultra Soft Ground
- Injinji OTC 2.0 Compression toe socks
- Nike Pro Combat tights
- 2XU compression long sleeve top
- Fuel belt
Standard Gear plus the following:
- Orca Core SwimRun wetsuit 3mm
- Cheap REI windbreaker
- NRS Maverick neoprene gloves
- Billabong Solution Neo 2mm neoprene cap
- Black Diamond Storm headlamp (paracord already tied to headlamp)
- eGear Guardian strobe light (clip taped shut to headlamp)
I changed completely for the final lap:
- Salomon S-Lab Sense 5 Ultra Soft Ground, half a size larger than normal
- Injinji Trail socks
- CWX TraXter tights
- UA compression short sleeve shirt
- Hyperflex Cyclone 2 Short John 2mm wet suit
Tape & Lube
I taped 8 toes and the inside of my ankles based on my long run/Ultra Beast experience with Leukotape. Then I generously slathered Trail Toes on my feet everywhere else. Finally, I applied Gurney Goo to my private parts, armpits, and where the compression shirt meets the neck. I re-applied this layer of Gurney Goo every other lap after Lap 5. Chafing is like staying Fueled: If you start to feel the need for it you are already behind the curve. The goal is to stay ahead of the game.
Single use latex gloves are ideal to apply Gurney Goo. Since the stuff is so slippery and hard to get off of your hands (which obviously is the whole point of good lubricant) you ideally do not want to get it on your fingers. Slip on a glove and you are good to go.
I use and love my Garmin Fenix 3 HR Sapphire. The normal battery life with GPS Smart recording is about 16 hours for this watch. If you follow Garmin’s tips to save energy it might last up to 20hours. Turning off the optical HR sensor saves the most power.
Garmin recommends the following:
- Reduce the backlight timeout.
- Reduce the backlight brightness.
- Use UltraTrac GPS mode for your activity.
- Turn off Bluetooth wireless technology when you are not using connected features.
- When pausing your activity for a longer period of time, use the resume later option.
- Turn off activity tracking (Activity Tracking).
- Use a Connect IQ™ watch face that is not updated every second. For example, use a watch face without a second hand.
- Limit the smartphone notifications the device displays.
- Stop broadcasting heart rate data to paired Garmin® devices.
- Turn off wrist-based heart rate monitoring.
The Fenix 3 HR can be charged on the go while still running the GPS activity tracking using a mobile charger. The cradle is flat enough that you could even wear the watch while charging it. At OCRs this is obviously not a practical solution since A) the cables would inhibit movement on obstacles and B) to my knowledge there are no waterproof power banks.
Fortunately, there is a special low power mode called “UltraTrac”:
“The UltraTrac feature is a GPS setting that records track points and sensor data less frequently. Enabling the UltraTrac feature increases battery life but decreases the quality of recorded activities. You should use the UltraTrac feature for activities that demand longer battery life and for which frequent sensor data updates are less important.”
Instead of frequently getting the location from GPS, the watch will receive a location only every 90 seconds. The inaccuracies of this mode are mitigated (to a point) by using the built-in accelerometer that helps the watch keep track of movement without GPS. The same thing is used if you use the watch on an indoor running activity if you do not have an additional foot pod paired.
I created a specific new activity for WTM on the watch with UltraTrac enabled. I selected data field which give me the information I was interested in while keeping it simple.
While I did set up two screens, I ended up staying on Screen 1 almost the entire time. I checked Screen 2 a few times so it was good to have that info easily available.
- Current Lap Distance
- Current Lap Time
- Current Lap Pace
- Number of Laps Overall
- Overall Distance
- Time of Day
- Sunrise Time
Here are the stats recorded:
During later laps I would additionally eat a Snickers or Kind bar, beef jerky and have some Powerade.
While I swear on Tailwind since it has worked great for me, there are others who can’t stomach it. There are other, similar products out there. This only stresses the point of trying out all gear, fuel, etc. before race day. Overall I was aiming to get about 18 liters of fluids in me, with the water at the water station being the variable factor. TMHQ provided some Cellucor drink at the water station too but I never touched it.
I had either a gel or a Gu Energy stroopwafel on course during every lap. In the beginning I always ate at the water station with 2-3 cups of pure water but later I found that it felt better if I did eat later (at the long incline to Ladder to Hell). Regardless, I always had the 2-3 cups of pure water on course at the water station to make sure I’m well hydrated.
Paces & Lap Times
Based on valuable input from the WTM community and Wesley Kerr’s number crunching (he got 90 mi at WTM 2016!) I mapped out the paces and lap times for guidance, knowing that I would need to adapt as necessary on the course.
- 100 mile goal: 11:08 min/mile Lap time: 0:55hrs
- 75 mile goal: 14:51 min/mile Lap time: 1:14hrs
- 100 mile goal: 13:22 min/mile Lap time: 1:07hrs
- 75 mile goal: 17:49 min/mile Lap time: 1:29hrs
- 50 mile goal: 26:44 min/mile Lap time: 2:13hrs
- 100 mile goal: 16:02 min/mile Lap time: 1:20hrs
- 75 mile goal: 21:23 min/mile Lap time: 1:47hrs
- 50 mile goal: 32:05 min/mile Lap time: 2:00hrs
Sunset & Sunrise
- Sunset: 4:30pm
- Sunrise: 6:10am
This should be routine for you by the time you get to WTM. Practice your pre-race activities so you don’t have to think much about what to do and how to do it when race day comes. Most races start in early morning, WTM however did start at noon. Make sure to fuel and hydrate throughout the day.
- Cut and file down toenails, to avoid blister/losing nails)
- Eat 3 hours before the race, to give yourself time to digest (nothing new on race day!)
- Tape toes, tape inside of ankles, apply lube everywhere (see Tape & Lube chapter)
- Warm up and visit the restroom
- Eat a gel at the start line
- Take water to the start line to hydrate before you take off
It would have been ideal to have a second person somewhere on the course 10min before the actual pit stop to communicate needs to. Unless your pit crew drags a lot of stuff to the pit stop area, they might not have at hand what you need at the time. Even if you run all the way to your tent, it might take some time to find and get ready what you want.
If you, like me, have only a single rock star supporter in the pit, you will need to let them know a full lap ahead of time what you will need. Good pit crew will also anticipate some need and bring more than the minimum to the stop.
Since it is very easy to unnecessarily lose time during pit stops, it is important to set a time limit on it as well as to establish a standard operating procedure: Who does what and when?
A standard process makes sure nothing important is missed even when everyone is getting tired or things get hectic.
- Never sit down unless you change gear below the waist
- Max time for normal pit stop: 5min
- Max time for change of gear (e.g. wet suit) pit stop: 10min
- How does the body feel (specifics, bio)?
- Drink liquids
- Re-apply lube
- Any extra needs for the next pit stop?
- Upon leaving the pit: LAP and LOCK GPS watch (press LAP BUTTON and LOCK the watch)
Pit Stop Bag
Some people had pull-along wagons with lots of gear in it. On one hand you will have all kinds of stuff with you, on the other hand it might over-complicate the process of finding what you really need.
Taylor, my pit crew of one, had only a GORUCK GR1 to carry around gear but this turned out to be just fine. Fortunately I never had to switch into my triathlon wet suit which would have made things a bit more hectic.
This is what she had with her for the pit stops.
- Water bottle with Tailwind/Cellucor mix
- Water bottle with pure water to flush mix down
- Gels, stroop waffles
- Granola bars, beef jerky, Snickers
- Lube, single use gloves, lip balm
- Band-aids, Leukotape, Biotic Plus, Nu-skin
- Glove options, neoprene hood options, buffs, beanies
- Have one replacement headlamp/strobe at the ready
- If necessary: Windbreaker, windbreaker pants, goggles
- Have ready: Neoprene gloves/hoods/socks, batteries, glow stick, duct tape
I did finish the race running and smiling. When breaking down the pit, I was in good spirits still but I was VERY aware I could not stop moving because doing so would mean my body would start to shut down on me. We made it back to the car with all of the gear in one trip (thank you baby Jesus) and were able to leave before the worst of the exodus traffic started.
My flight home was Sunday at 7:30pm and by that time my walking speed was reduce to tiny slow steps, with feet barely lifted off of the ground. Back at home Sunday night the pain and swelling got only worse. Monday was probably the physical low point with the most amount of pain, but that was expected. 24 hours after an endurance event ends your body will start to hammer down with inflammation and flushing out all the broken down muscle fibers etc. It’s a fascinating process when the body switches into hunting mode and shuts down everything you don’t need to perform. But later, when you are at rest, you will get the bill for it…
Monday to Tuesday night I briefly considered going to urgent care due to the intense persistent pain and swelling but some gentle mobility exercises calmed me down and on Tuesday I was fairly confident that I would be fine.
If you have a job that requires standing or walking or driving I would highly suggest taking at least one or two days off after WTM weekend to give your body time to heal.
I did hammer my big toe against a rock somewhere in the middle of my race. It was merely unpleasant during the race but right after I finished I could tell immediately that I had done damage to it. At least I did not injure the bone or joint so I consider myself lucky. I’d say losing a nail can be expected beyond 50mi.
I will say this though: If you prepare for high mileage properly you should not suffer as significant effects afterwards as I did.
- Did not consume any warm liquids (huge mistake)
- Ordered neoprene jacket too late which could have made a significant difference after Lap 10
- Did not train enough for this kind of mileage (which is why I still consider myself a running noob)
- Did not discuss how pit crew should go through the standard operating procedure with me
- I wanted her to go down the list of items I had prepared, ask me questions and check off the boxes but I had not communicated that. Around Lap 3 I finally realized why there was a communication breakdown and took the extra minute to talk about the issue. It made a huge difference. The pit crew needs to take over normal brain function for you very early at the race, even though they will get tired themselves. It’s tremendous responsibility and a lot of stress!
- Should not have rested but continued to walk after warming up and switching in the full suit. However, overuse injuries could have potentially become stress fractures etc. if I had done that, so I am not sure if taking a break was actually a mistake since I achieved my goal doing what I did.
- I definitely messed up the post-race recovery due to several factors: Euphoria from finishing, dread about the pain that I knew was coming, feeling rushed to get out before the exodus because of our flight, etc. Should have gently rolled, stretched, hydrated more, eat some fruit and vegetables, take Turmeric Curcumin, put on compression tights and socks… At least I kept on moving which is also crucial.
You can easily start to slip into hypothermia without noticing it which makes it very treacherous. Especially when you are a focused athlete with strong willpower, you might be too focused on your effort to notice your body is slowly starting to shut down. Personally, I was extremely alarmed once I noticed that my purposeful movement suddenly started to slip for a few seconds here and there. This was a huge red flag and caused major concern to me.
My hypothermia was mild and I believe I could have bounced back from it with warm sugary liquids and dry gear. However, your brain will not allow you to make this kind of rational decision at that point. Your pit crew will most likely need to make that call for you. This requires of a strong level of confidence in the relationship between pit crew and athlete.
Just like your body’s core temperature can sink too low, it can also rise too high. This is a rather minor risk at WTM compared to Hypothermia, but still real. Putting on a full wet suit too early might get you in trouble, just like running hard after the sun is up with a full wet suit on. Just something to keep in mind, be aware of the risks you’re facing so you can actively manage for them.
I got lucky but others not so much. A lot of people got sick right before, during, or right after the race. Since most people travel to Las Vegas via plane, stay in a hotel, and visited the Camp Rhino get-together and/or the Community buffet on Friday, there are A LOT of opportunities to pick up something nasty even before you arrive at the race venue.
On Saturday you arrive early before the race and spend time in the heat and sun, probably use the port-a-johns, maybe did not hydrate while standing in the noon desert sun and listened to the start line speech and then suddenly burst into sprint during the sprint hour of the race. No bueno.
Hydration and fueling during the race itself can cause plenty of issues unless you have tested everything you put in your body under race conditions plenty of times beforehand. Finally, there are water obstacles with all kinds of unspeakable things in it – especially as the race goes on. Keep your mouth closed at all times when in the water! People pee in their wet suits before or in the middle of water obstacles. Don’t ever forget that.
I was incredibly fortunate to have great weather and “easy” obstacles at my first WTM. I do realize that the bitter cold of New Jersey of the sand storms of previous WTMs could have cut my race short or reduced the mileage significantly. Success in 2016 is no guarantee that I will be able to replicate this another time.
Events like this always deserve respect and proper planning and preparation. If you want to achieve 75 miles or more, then the event for you starts long before you place foot near the starting line. Putting in this many miles also requires that you pay attention to your body once you have crossed the finish line the last time.
WTM’s best part are the people. You will always find someone who is fighting harder than you, who has overcome tougher challenges than you, who is in more pain than you. Don’t close yourself off. Have a smile on your face, talk to others, make jokes – we’re all alone in this together.
Finally, WTM reminded of the old joke: “How do you eat an elephant?” – “One bite at a time.”
Once you are in the desert you should never think of WTM as a 24 hour race (unless it helps you to keep yourself from going too fast in the first 12 hours). Personally, I broke it down into thirds of 25 miles. For others, it might be easier to count down to sunset, midnight, sunrise, noon. Find a system that works for you personally and stick to it.
|Lap #||Distance||Pace||Lap Time||Total Time||Place Overall|
|15||75||26:55||2:14:34||24:00:05||39 (-> 27)|