Friday, September 9, 2016

Spartan Tahoe Ultra-Beast Cramming

THE INSPIRATION

I had told myself that if I made it through the HH12HR, I'd sign up for the Spartan Ultra Beast.  This would complete my 2016 Endurance Trifecta.  This has been my biggest OCR year so far, and things have been on a roll with noticeable improvements in the Asheville Super and surviving the HH12HR and having the HH in the bag, so there's no better time than now!  I didn't want to pay up for the UB and go for the 2016 Endurance Trifecta only to not make it through the HH12HR, so I didn't seriously consider the UB until after the HH12HR.  The UB by itself has always sounded interesting, but they only host it a handful of locations.  I travel for marathons, but I've yet to take any plane rides for OCRs.  Tahoe became the obvious choice, because it was hosting the Spartan World Championships that weekend, and I love exploring the Western half of the country.

This has been a big year in OCR for me.  My plan for next year was to focus more on normal running next year, and possibly start working towards an Ultramarathon.  I've completed 6 marathons (Houston, Albany [GA], Philly, St. George, Boston, California International), so I'm comfortable with trying something new.  I want to do Comrades (~56 mi) in South Africa one day, but 56 is a big jump up, so I figured that my first might be a domestic 50K.  Prior to researching the UB in depth, I thought that it was 26 miles on the dot.  I should have figured otherwise, since the Sprints, Supers, and Beasts are all above 5K, 10K, and HM distance, and the word "Ultra" is in "Ultra Beast".  I didn't expect an OCR to be my first Ultra, but it's actually not a bad way to get started in it.  I can jump in without having to deal with excuses like picking the right 50K or waiting until I'm ready and being concerned about being 100% prepared for a good breakout ultra performance based on pure speed. 

I was extra-pumped about the prospect of racing with some of my fellow HH12HRs who I had met in Ft. Campbell.  Even if I wasn't racing with them, per se, I love the comraderie of knowing that they're out on the same course, fighting the same battle against the distance and terrain and cold.  This left me with about 6 weeks to prep.  Time to cram!  This is a recap of the three weeks spanning T minus 6 through T minus 4 weeks (August 21 through September 9).



THE APPROACH

1) Recon
 I read blog posts on other peoples' HH12HR experiences, to capture notes on Gear Drop contents (perhaps the part I was most excited about planning), training, and race-day strategy.  There were valuable stories from DNFs and successes.  I also watched Youtube videos to understand what to expect obstacle, terrain, and weather-wise.  It also helped with visualization.  Here's the current plan...
  • Gear Drop:  I'll be using my bucket from the HH12HR, and putting various clear plastic bags in it, to help group like items while providing easy visibility of what's in each container.  I have one for food, one for small items (extra safety pins, sharpie, bandaids, mustard packets, vasaline, etc), a couple containers for water, a bag for extra clothes, and I'll see what room is left for an extra pair of shoes.
  • Training: The biggest regret people had tended to be not doing enough hill training.  That ended up being more valuable than straight-up running.  Noted.  
  • Race-day Strategy: Surviving the cold and avoiding hypothermia seemed to be a bigger obstacle than the obstacles themselves, although the cold water swims and dunk obstacles are what cause it.  I can't see myself enjoying running and doing obstacles in a wetsuit, so I think I'll bite the bullet and go without one.  We'll see.  Don't stop too long at the gear drop, run on anything that's runnable because most of the time, it's steep uphills and downhills where you'll be slower than the pace needed to meet the time hacks.  Be ready for 28-34 miles and 10,000 ft of elevation gain.  There are some water stops along the way, so you don't have to carry 16-ish miles worth on you.  The finishing rate could be as low as 25%, so it wasn't going to be easy.
2) Self-Assessment
To do my best in Tahoe, I must assess my strengths and weaknesses, to capitalize on my strengths, and fix or mitigate my shortcomings.  
  • Strengths
    •  Endurance... not Ultra endurance, but low-mileage Marathoner endurance
    • I can go without water or food pretty well. 
  • Weaknesses
    •  Double Obstacles.  Sometimes, they make even a single lap of the Ultrabeast harder than normal Beasts, obstacle-wise, by doubling every obstacle.  Two giant walls in a row, carry double the sandbags at one time.  I'm not the best on obstacles and can barely get through some of them a single time, so this one does intimidate me. 
    • Even single obstacles... my friend said that I should try out for American Ninja Warrior after seeing some Spartan Race pics of me, but I laughed as I explained that I don't have much upper body strength and don't have a good vertical leap, and she agreed that I may be a lost cause there, haha.  I am improving, though, little-by-little.  I think I'm the strongest I've ever been right now, thanks to the Deez Nutz HH-080 Class WODs, although I still have a long, long way to go.
  • Both (Strength and Weakness)
    • In normal running races, I consider pacing to be one of my strengths.  If I don't do even-ish or negative splits, my positive splits are usually not too bad.  The one exception was in the 2015 ATL Battlefrog BFX, though, where I did about 20 miles in 7 hours and could barely, barely even walk in the last couple of miles... rolling sideways might've been faster than the walk I was attempting.  I bonked.  I had gone out at my easy long run pace, but my longest long runs had been only a little over three hours long, and without obstacles.  I'll need to make sure to rein it in in Tahoe.  It may help to be forced to walk up most of the 8-mile hill.  We'll see.  I need to be careful, though.  
    • Hills.  In general, I'm not as good at hills as others.  To me, any slight incline is a "hill".  When I first moved to Charlotte and started running the trails at the Whitewater Center, I remarked how strong some of the other racers there were... they were hardened trail runners.  Then, I visited Colorado and met real mountains... the people there do Flatirons and 14ers as weekend activities!  How do I compete with them?  I walk when others run and get passed.  I did much better than others up the multi-mile hill in Asheville, though, which gives me hope.  Maybe my endurance and engine will win out. 
    • I do like cold... my usual motto for races is "the colder the better".  This has only applied to running races, though.  Water and mud obstacles completely change the game.  Also, I'm from the Carolinas.  My cold is probably different from Northern/Mountain cold.   
    • I'm born and bred Sea Level.   On the plus side, I felt pretty good hiking a 14er at Gray's Peak... it was easier the second time this year than when I did it back in 2009.  
 3) Training

The Delicate Balance
Training is such a delicate balance between pushing yourself hard and not pushing yourself to injury.  I have been going about 7.5 years without injury, which I'm so grateful for.  Weekly strength sessions to keep muscles in balance (with suggestions from a PT friend that I've continued to follow for 7 years) and learning from past mistakes about not pushing myself too hard (did a 12-minute wall sit back in high school to help with soccer, and my knees have never been the same since... in early college days, I used to try to PR at every training run, too... not a good idea) have been very helpful in that. One thing that I had regretted as I prepared for the HH12HR was that I didn't start earlier.  After you take away the last 2 weeks for tapering, that left me less time than I had hoped for, to really drive in training.  Gotta get ready early.

The Checkpoint/Rehearsal
I must admit I like collecting cool medals.  I don't have a Spartan Military Sprint medal yet, so I signed up for it.  It's three weeks out from Tahoe, which give enough time to recover.  It'll give me some event-specific training (obstacles), and it will help me test out gear, too.  I wanted to somewhat "train through" it, because my end-game is the UB, not the Sprint, but as I got closer to the Sprint, I decided to taper and not continue to drill in the training.  I didn't want to show up on the starting line and not perform.  I know there's controversy around having people who aren't super fast running in the elite heat, but in the womens' races, there's still plenty of space in the womens' elite heat, I'm pretty sure I don't get in anyone's way on the course, and I like running in that heat, so I do it.  And since I am doing it, I want to give it my reasonable best. If I still have lots of energy and body durability after the race, I guess I can make up for the mini-taper then.

Nutrition
I like to try craft beers every now and then, but for the 6 weeks, I decided to abstain.  Shalane Flannagan avoided it in her marathon prep so that her sleep and recovery wouldn't be negatively impacted, so I will, too.  My nutrition isn't really changing.  Whole grains, low-fat or skim dairy products, eggs, fruits and veg, dark chocolate, peanut butter, and less healthy treats (potato chips and vegan cookies).  The only time I really eat meat is when I eat at a restaurant and don't have to make the food myself, which is rare, in which case my recent favorite is BBQ Pork. I did start having workouts at the gym that were long enough that I did start getting hungry enough to want to go home, so I learned that I needed to start bringing food with me.

Workouts
  • Tuesday, August 23: 1st run after the HH12HR.  7.0 in 58:42, 8:23 ave, at 2 degrees of incline = 8:02 effort.  Rucked 1 mile round trip to the fitness room.  Ran while watching Spartan Race coverage, which was awesome.
  • Friday, August 26: Deez Nutz WOD strength session.  
    • Ruck: 1 mile
    • Plank: 4+3+3 min
    • Sit-ups: 305+95
    • Lunges: 75
    • Flutter Kicks: 50+40+40+30
    • Push-ups: 25+25
    • Squats: 100
    • Mt. Climbers: 100
  • Saturday, August 27: Trail run at the US National Whitewater Center to help with race specificity.  This doubled as a virtual race to celebrate the National Park Service's 100th anniversary.  13.1 in 2:14:12, 10:15 average.  No Tahoe-style elevation changes here in the Carolinas... I got in 430 feet of elevation gain... 1/20th of Tahoe, haha.  Oh, my.  I was excited that the four trails that I randomly strung together happened to very nearly 13.1 miles on the dot.  Did it with no water and 2/3 of a 100-cal mini Clif bar. I do pre-load with water, so that I don't have to carry water with me.  I will carry water with me in Tahoe, partly because it's mandatory, and partly because I will need and use it, but I do want to not be dependent on it.  I don't plan to use a hydration bladder, since I've never practiced with it before.  Nalgenes are simpler for me to manage.  Later that day, after a whitewater rafting session and a bit of rock climbing, I did a 1-hr stationary bike session, plus the 1 mile ruck.  I was soooo excited about the UB and pumped for training that day, haha.  That day was so great... a taste of the training life. 
  • Monday, August 29: Time for some hill training on the treadmill.  I started off thinking I'd do a 15 degree incline, but the angle was too much for my ankles to feel good about, so I backed it off to 10 degrees.  I alternated 1 mile sans ruck with 0.5 mile with the ruck, for 3 sets.  4.5 mi in 1:04:20, 14:18 average.  My hill conversion chart doesn't list paces that slow, so I don't know what the equivalent flat-land effort would be.  I still had energy and enough leg integrity afterwards, so I did a 1hr bike session, both to get in a wee bit more cardio, but moreso to rack up more miles for the Amerithon challenge
  • Tuesday, August 30: Deez Nutz WOD
    • Ruck: 1 mi
    • Plank: 4 + 3 min 
    • Flutter: 45+35+55+45 = 180
    • Lunges: 60+100
    • Sit-ups: 405
    • Squats: 125
    • Burpees: 60
    • Mt Climbers: 100
    • Push-ups: 20+20
    • Plus ~ 5 min trying out a knock-off TRX for the first time.  I considered stationary biking, too, but I was hungry (decided that I need to bring food with me to the gym in the future), and it was getting late.
  • Thursday, September 1: Normal run... don't want to lose the ability to run a decent normal run, in the midst of the other kinds of training.  8.0 in 1:07:48, 8:29 average, 2 degrees of incline = 8:07 effort.  I let the pace float.  I had to start slower than usual (6.7mph vs. 7.0mph), but I finally started warming up and feeling more normal at around mile 6.  Got hungry, too, which could be caused by the training, or hormones, or other stuff.  Glad I brought my Clif Builder's Bar for afterwards, having learned from previous gym sessions where I hadn't brought anything.
  • Saturday, September 3: Trail run... wanted a longer one.  I figured that I'd have 2 shots at longer runs... one a week before the Ft. Bragg Spartan Sprint, and another the week after Ft. Bragg.  The Whitewater Center's trails were closed that day, which was a day after the hurricane brought rains to our area.  It was a good excuse for me to branch out and go to Crowder's Mountain, where I got in 17.0 miles in 4:02:48, 14:17 ave, with 2,765 ft of elevation gain.  I normally stop my watch on traditional long runs when I have to stop to tie shoe laces and stuff like that, to get an idea of true pace.  But here, when I got a bit lost at the summit of Pinnacle Mountain or was exploring or re-filling my mini-bottle from my Nalgene, I decided to let my watch continue running, to better mimic time spent on obstacles.  I didn't do burpees or anything like that during the run, though... I'm not that specific about my training at this point in my OCR "career".  I did see a fellow trail runner with a Spartan Trifecta tee, though, which was pretty cool.  By the way, the max elevation of my run was 1,564 ft... it's hard to imagine that it was only about a tenth of 14ers.  The run was hard, and it blows my mind that it's only half the distance of the Ultrabeast, 1/4 the elevation gain, and obstacle-free.  Doing this twice, at twice the elevation plus all of the obstacles... hard to imagine. 
  • Monday, September 5: Deez Nutz WOD
    • Sit-ups: 100+70
    • Plank: 3+2.5+2 = 7.5
    • Lunges: 300 (in 30 min)... after maybe messing up my knees a bit in HS, I've lacked the confidence to do lunges except when forced to, but I've recently gained that confidence back through the WOD and the HH12HR, so this was a record for me.
    • Push-ups: 20+30
    • Flutter: 65+60+40 = 165
    • J-Jacks: 150+150
    • Squats: 330
  • Tuesday, September 6: One hour on the Recumbent bike, while watching Youtube videos of Tahoe Beasts & UltraBeasts.   Didn't push too hard.  Trying to visualize and learn from the videos.  No way I could've run today, with the shape my legs were in after the WOD the previous day.
  • Wednesday, September 7: Hill training.  If I was 100% tapering for the Ft. Bragg Sprint, I wouldn't have done hills the week of the race, since I'm not really used to hill work.  Since hills are not a strong point for me, I need to work on it, though.   I did a milder 7 degree incline run (as opposed to the previous 10 degree mostly walk but tiny spurts of running from the previous week), with 6 miles in 58:30, 9:45 average,7 degrees of incline = 7:42 effort.  I started at 6mph and stayed there most of the time, but built up to 7mph towards the very end.  This workout was easier than expected, and a confidence-builder.  1 bottle of H2O was necessary.  The next two days, I felt good enough to have biked and/or run, but I held it back.  So tempting to go out, but I want to be tapered for Ft. Bragg.

NORMAL LIFE/FUN IN THE MEANTIME
  • Exploring churches in a city you've just moved to is interesting.  It makes you think about what's most important.  The variety that's out there has amazed me.  
  • One of my cousins and his parents visited from Taiwan!  It was fun to show him my city and Southern BBQ.
  • Tried to go fishing for crabs in a creek with my dad.  All we ended up doing was feed the crabs with our bait. 



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