Why I am writing this
I write this for a couple of reasons. The first is to simply document the adventure. I have done some cool stuff in the past, and afterward I wished I would have written about it during the process.
The second is to hopefully spark someone’s interest in trail and ultra running. If I can do it, anyone can do it!
What is an ultramarathon (ultra)?
By definition an ultra is any race over 26.2 miles (which is the marathon distance). Most are run on off-road trails, though that is not a requirement. 50km (31 Miles), 50 Miles, 100km (62 Miles), and 100 Miles are the most popular distances.
Catching the trail and ultra bug
I grew up in rural Indiana, and the woods were a big part of my childhood. Fishing with my grandpa and hiking through the woods with my dad were staples of my youth. The trails took me back to being a kid and just having fun, and I found peace and solitude running through the forest, forgetting all the training gadgets and data I had been chained to for the past several years on the road. Trail running to me was about being with nature, breathing fresh air, and being alone inside my own head.
Living in Louisville, KY puts me near many excellent trail systems and race promoters. There are trail races varying in distance from 4 miles to 50k all around me, and the local parks boast excellent running trails with a variety of elevation gain and terrain.
I laced up for my first official trail run in the fall of 2013. I had been a road runner for many years but had spent the two years prior focused specifically on racing Ironman distance triathlons. By the time the 2013 triathlon season was over, I was burnt out on pounding the pavement and staring at the white line while cycling on the roads. I needed a change of pace and scenery. I bought a pair of trail running shoes and hit the trails. Over that winter, I immersed myself in books, videos, and websites on trail and ultra running and quickly became educated on the roots of ultra running. I learned a lot about the Western States Endurance Run (first 100 mile foot race) and the Leadville 100. The Leadville and Western States races were what motivated me to want to run a 100 miler, and learning about the distances and elevations covered by runners during the races and their training were so inspiring to me. I knew immediately in those first few months of trail running that I eventually wanted to run a 100.
The year of the ultras
2014 was the first year of ultras for me. I took a year off from long distance triathlon and focused on trail and ultra running. I continued to be a student of the sport, reading and learning as much as I could. I set my sights on the Land Between the Lakes 50 miler, and I competed in several trail marathons and a 50k leading up to it. The entire year was a big success, and I had my first ever overall win in a running race (a 50k at that—the Cloudsplitter)!
The year of the 100
Though I spent last year focusing on Ironman Louisville, my 2016 ultra planning started in the early part of 2015. I always like to have races and events planned out far in the future. Step #1 for me is signing up for the race, and since many popular events can sell out 364 days in advance, it is especially critical to register for events early. Registration for the Mohican Trail 100 opened in mid-2015, and I registered immediately.
Why the Mohican Trail 100?
First and foremost I wanted to select a 100-miler that was a Western States qualifier. The Western States 100 is a prestigious ultra that requires a qualification race and lottery system to enter, and the Mohican 100 is a qualifying event. Secondly, I wanted a spring or summer race date since I much prefer running in warm weather versus the cold. Because the Mohican is in June, a majority of my training miles would be logged in above freezing temperatures. Lastly, I was concerned about location and course. The Mohican 100 is located in Ohio, putting it within driving distance for crew and pacers. Also, the course is a 4-loop course; another benefit for crew and pacer logistics, as opposed to a point-to-point race.
How would I train?
I knew the training and preparation for a 100 mile race would be significantly more difficult than training for a 50 miler. I wanted to reach my performance potential and ensure I got the most value out of my training time. To that end, I hired Troy Shellhamer to coach me through training for and racing the Mohican. Troy is a very successful ultra runner and coach who also lives in Louisville. I was familiar with Troy’s racing and coaching accomplishments, and since he has trained and raced on the same trails that I would be, I knew he would be a great choice.
Aside from the performance aspects, the other reason I hired a coach was to help me become a better coach myself. As most of you know, I launched my multisport & run coaching services last year (Compass Endurance Coaching). I wanted to put myself in a client’s shoes, and working with a coach would allow me to better serve my athletes, especially from a communication and customer service standpoint.
Early Season Races
The official training block for the Mohican started January 1st, and so far this year I have raced the Lovin’ the Hills 50k and the Land Between the Lakes 50 miler. Both of these races have been great confidence boosters for the Mohican. My 2016 performances in these two races well exceeded those from 2014, as I cut around an hour off my overall time in each race. I even earned some hardware, finishing as the 5th Place male at LBL 50!
And not only have I gotten physically stronger this season, but I have also learned a lot about pacing and fueling on the trails. Coach Troy has taught me that with proper pacing and fueling, I can actually race a 50k and 50 miler instead of simply trying to survive these distances. This concept has been an exciting eye-opener for me this year.
So what next?
Running, running, and more running, while enjoying the longer days and warmer temperatures! For the last few weeks I have been averaging around 9 hours of running per week, with a majority of these miles logged on trails. 4 hour long trail runs are the norm for now, and running specificity has been key—there will not be much time cycling or swimming for me until after the Mohican. Next up I will be running in 2 more tune-up events: The Backside Trail Marathon and the Dances with Dirt 50k. I will update you on how those events and my peak weeks go in my next blog entry.