Tuesday, 17 December 2013
Quick Tips For The Grand Slam Of Ultrarunning
Given the Western States 100 lottery has recently occurred, plenty of people are thanking their lucky stars they got into the race and know it may be the only chance they get in the next few years at the least. That means more people will be searching the websites of the Vermont 100, Leadville Trail 100 and Wasatch Front 100 to contemplate the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning. There isn't much time to decide since the lottery for Wasatch is currently open, then Leadville opens entries on 1/1/14 with Vermont five days later. Both those races will probably sell out on the first day. Entering the official Slam bypasses the lottery at Wasatch (but only in the case of not being lucky in the lottery - you still need to enter in the normal way), but only on the condition of completing the first three races first.
So if you're one of the people thinking of running the Slam, here are some useful tips.
It'll take up a lot of time and money over the summer, plus more training than you might otherwise do for a 100 to make sure you're as fit as possible for the first race. In particular it's well worth considering how much time you'd be able to spend at altitude in advance of Leadville, especially if you live near sea level. That race is mainly above 10,000ft, hitting a high of 12,600ft, so even fit runners can suffer altitude sickness and have to drop as a result. I'd recommend two weeks prior to the race in Colorado to make it a longer vacation, plus hiking up above the highest point of the course. Another option is to use an altitude tent at home but going to a high altitude location is preferable. Also, try to fly in at least two days before each race to get over jetlag.
2. Don't run much between the 100s
You can train hard for the first race at WS100, but after that the priority is recovery. The gaps between each 100 are either three or four weeks so don't be tempted to think you have to train very hard between each race. Instead, walking and hiking are great ways to get the blood flowing to your leg muscles and speed recovery with low impact exercise. Cross training at a low intensity is also good, such as cycling or swimming but an elliptical (or ElliptiGO if you want a view while you exercise) is the most similar to running. You should still choose tough routes to get in plenty of vertical, even if that's just on a treadmill, but hike them hard instead of running too much.
3. Focus on recovery food
Straight after each race you'll have severe muscle damage so getting the right nutrients will help a lot. With advice from Meredith Terranova, a dietician/nutritionist friend of mine, she recommended I use supplements that body builders use for muscle repair (the legal ones!) such as: B6/B12 Complex Vitamins, CoQ10 and Branch Chain Amino Acids. Also try to eat more protein such as from lean meats in the days after the race. It's worth speaking to a specialist to find out what your exact needs are as this can significantly help your body's recovery speed.
Your legs will be wrecked after each race given the distances and large amounts of downhill, therefore it's well worth getting regular sports massages. I got one about three to four days after each race then again a week later, plus I usually get massages every two weeks. The benefits here are that the imbalances and tightness that builds up in each race can get evened out to allow even walking to feel better and this should have some effect on the speed of recovery too. Personally I found it helped the most because it made it a lot more comfortable to train, especially hilly hikes. This was what allowed my legs to heal faster because they were being used in a way that wasn't too hardcore but helped with getting blood flow and healing the leg muscles faster like a standard recovery run.
5. Don't try to race an of the 100s early on
What I mean here is that the first half of each race needs an even stronger focus than usual on looking after yourself and making sure you feel comfortable. Don't get caught up in splits or time goals and certainly don't race anyone in the early miles - if you're fit enough on the day to beat someone, you can catch them later on if they zoom off at the start. After the first race you'll be feeling the effects of the previous 100s and need to be a little more conservative to stay on top of things that could go wrong and severely slow you down.
One other thing to bear in mind is that your body will get stronger in some ways through the summer, especially your endurance. However, many people I've spoken to found that the second race at Vermont was much harder than it should have been because the body hasn't enough time to get used to doing 100s that close together and just feels as bad as you'd expect so soon after running Western States. Things do get better after this when you body starts adapting to the crazy concept of doing 100s so close together.
Good luck to anyone who attempts the Slam. It was harder than I ever expected when I ran it this year, but also an immensely satisfying challenge with so many memories. Here's a more vivid description of what it's all like.