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Inside the Mind of an Ultra Runner

My thoughts leading up to my fifth Bull Run Run 50 Miler. 

I hadn't run an ultra since last September. I was slightly worried. Had it really been six months?!?

Thanks to the record-setting blizzards we'd had this winter, I hadn't done a lot of running. We did some snowshoeing and a few snow runs, but that was really hiking (and plodding). One 24-mile road run just before a ten day vacation was all I could count for sustained long runs.

My hips and core were as strong as they'd ever been. I'd done lots of treadmill running, at shorter distances and faster speeds. Not being able to get out to the mountains much this winter forced me to start doing hill work. Climbing has always been my weakest (and least favorite) area. I buckled down and incorporated uphill running and power walking steep inclines in my treadmill workouts.

I'd been running more frequently, including twice a week runs with a friend whose pace forced me to slow down (a good thing).

Would all of this translate into a better finish time? Or simply result in me going out too fast and running out of gas? My training felt so random.

I knew I could do the distance. Not having practiced the timing of my hydration and nutrition in a race in so long gave me pause, though. I'd switched to Nuun from Gatorade, so I'd have to take in all my calories from Gu, Sport Beans, Cliff Shot Bloks and aid station goodies. Nutrition or hydration can turn a great run into a miserable slog if you aren't paying close attention. It's easy to make mistakes - you can be cruising along feeling fantastic, but if you fail to take in what is needed (before you think you need it) it can result in bonking, blisters, or stomach issues.

The mental side of what seems like such a physically demanding sport cannot be sufficiently explained. Not having run an ultra in six months, would I have the fortitude to be able to push when the discomfort and fatigue set in after 30 miles? The properly fueled body is capable of running a fine pace even after many miles, but the brain exerts its influence: Take a break, you're hurting, walk awhile. You'd better save some energy for later in this race. Almost imperceptible twinges in the foot, the knee, the ankle can quickly overrun the mind with doubt. Running an ultra always seems to hurt more than the last time. Perhaps it is the phenomenon of the memory of pain fading with time. Isn't that a key factor in women bearing more than one child?

Rest. I tend to be conservative in my training and have a "less is more" philosophy. Of course, right before a race I think I should have trained a lot harder. Thus, I am a big proponent of being well-rested. I get to bed early (a luxury afforded only to those of us with no children, I realize) all week before a big race. Like tapering, getting enough sleep is a key element in racing well. Relevant articles from Running Times and The New York Times.

My form held up the entire distance. That hip and core work really made a difference. As did the speed work and more frequent runs. I believe the slower-paced lunchtime runs with my friend helped me find the sustainable pace I needed to be able to run strong all the way to the finish.

I improved my Bull Run Run PR. By 50 minutes. Hot damn!

Things that hurt: Feet and toes, numb in spots, soles tingling. Toenails - they always hurt! Shoulders are very tender from bearing the weight of a Camelbak laden with fluid and fuel. Muscles surrounding my right ankle are weak and sore from the steep, downhill, winding trails. Legs are sore throughout and very stiff, causing me to hobble around.

Gosh it's a good pain though. It's the pain of accomplishment and personal victory and pride.


  1. Wow, so inspiring! A 50 minute PR is soo huge! Congratulations on an awesome race!

  2. Great piece on your training. I subscribe to a very similar philosophy. I believe less is more in training - particularly for those of us who are just challenging ourselves. It is easy to become overtrained.

    Congrats on your PR.

  3. Kir,

    I am so proud of you! You obviously trained hard and listened to your body to get such a great result. It was fun to see you smiling and feeling so good out there---enjoy your recovery!


  4. Congratulations! What a great testament to the importance of solid training (both running and core work) and ample rest-- short,to listening to your body. You deserve every second of that 50-minute PR!

  5. Awesome running Kir! What a huge PR--awesome!!

  6. awesome!! I can't believe you ran today!! Congrats!

  7. Congrats! That is a huge PR so it's no wonder your legs and feet and toes and shoulders hurt. Enjoy the rest/recovery.

  8. Awesome job out there this weekend and congrats on the HUGE PR! I was out there too enjoying the beautiful weather and couldn't have asked for a better day and event for my first 50 miler!

    I'm curious what kind of hip work you're doing. If there is one thing about my experience that was bad, it was my right hip soreness later in the race and afterwards. Could definitely use some focused work to strengthen and stabilize that!

    Any follow up on the CR vacation? Mine is getting close and I'm starting to get antsy! Can't wait!

  9. Congrats on the PR - and thanks for writing about it. I don't know about 50 miles, but I'd definitely like to go further in the woods. Your effort inspires the rest of us.

  10. Smart smart girl. I don't think people realize how much thought goes into a race. You really thought it through and planned right. Amazing PR for your effort. Very very impressed.

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  13. wow fuck. an improvement of 50 min. you take the cake lady...and you sooooo deserve that. great race and congrats. bigass hug.

  14. I'm a little late to the party...but wow! Amazing PR considering the crappy winter we had here. Looks like this race is going to set you up nicely for a strong year of running!


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