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  • Becoming an Ultra Runner, Part 1

    Posted on February 5th, 2016 Michele Sun No comments

    Friday Feb 5th, I was out practicing walking during lunch break, and yes I am learning how to walk and this is part of my Becoming an Ultra Runner training.

    I always admire ultra-runners’ physical & mental toughness, especially after pacing Mike at WS100. I really don’t know how they run 50, 100 and even 200 miles, and particularly can’t imagine how one trains for events like that. I complained and whined about how painful it was to run North Face 50K, and I have always said that I will never ever run a 50 mile race, but Joseph teased “never say never” when we were eating pancake and drinking coffee the day after TNF50. My running peers  have been telling me that “yes you can do this; you are totally ready for a 50 miler.” I persistently shook my head “No No No!

    But here I am, one third into my 50 miler training program!

    After TNF50 I got very sick, my cold got worse and my body just completely shutdown; I was in bed for 3 days and had to skip work that entire week. At the annual Striders Christmas party where ultra-runners drinking wine instead of electrolyte, in beautiful dresses or suits & ties,  several asked me “so, when are you going to run your first 50 miler?” Must be the fever from that cold, stupid me voluntarily gave my credit card to UltraSignup, and officially signed up for the AR50, a 50 mile endurance run!

    At that Christmas party, Dennis told me “don’t worry, I will help you to train for it,” and he wasn’t just saying it because he had too much drink.  After the party he sent me a training program to follow, and instructed me what strength exercises to do after hearing my experience at the last few miles at North Face 50K. The scariest thing was the text at night “did you do your strength exercise today yet?” and I almost wanted to lie about it :-p

    Fri Jan 1st, I went to run the Brazen New Year Half Marathon as a birthday celebration, and at post run dim sum I told Michael about my signing up the 50 mile race. “Will you be my pacer at AR50?”  Michael is the most trustworthy and reliable runner that I know I can always count on, and he was the one running 28 miles with me at my first 50K. That weekend I also asked Vinh if he would be my pacer as well, because not only he had paced at AR50 before but I also would get a BOGO deal – Kiyoko could be my crew captain 🙂

    Sat Jan 2nd, I did my first training run and it’s a 22 miler!! That’s what you call a long run!! I went to Los Gatos Creek Trail and reversed my usual direction — starting at the Los Gatos High School and ran toward Campbell Park, reason being coming back would be with inclines and I would be tired. No reason to feel good about myself, Michele, and save the hardest part toward the end! After that first 17 miles on paved road which mimics the first half of AR50 course, I turned onto dirt trail that leading up to Lexington Dam and then coming down and turned right onto St Joe hill. It’s a 450 feet uphill in less than 2 miles climb, and I felt dizzy, hungry and tired when I reached the top. That dizziness had me worried, so I reminded myself to check with doctor later. My face must be pale because couple hikers asked me “are you ok?” An older lady even gave me some gummy bears when I took a resting break at the top.


    This Jan we have been very lucky to have lots of rain, but unfortunately I had to suck it up and did my training in the rain, in the cold and in the dark. I had to ask myself again “Why are you doing this?

    Sat Jan 9th, it’s 35 degree and had rained nonstop through the night, and Dennis had BIG plan for me! We were going to join the Steatopygous Quinquamillia (Saratoga Fat Ass 50K), a raw and self-supported 50K with more than 3,700ft elevation gain through beautiful redwoods. It’s a challenging route for sure, and even more so for I was sick again and had been coughing nonstop. When climbing back to the Ridge Trail I took a moment to look out the mystic surrounding and wondered how beautiful it would be in a good day! Not that I was in a hurry to get going, but I was hungry and was shivering in soaking wet running cloth, plus the fog was moving in so fast so we started running again quickly!

    saratoga gap

    During our run Dennis showed me how to run the uphill properly, how to run the downhill efficiently, and taught me what to pack for drop-bag, what shoes to try during training..etc. I have learned so much from this one-on-one training run. At the end of our 22 miles run I requested a hot chocolate stop, and told Dennis that this is the hardest training run I have ever done. He said “yet” with a tease!

    Saratoga Fat Ass

    Couple of my running friends have done AR50 before, and I turned to Albert asking about what the course would be like and where I can do practice run that’s most similar to the second half of AR50 course. He recommended Pleasanton Ridge trail. Therefore I started doing Pleasanton Ridge on Sundays just to get familiar with the terrains and inclines, and I love this new running route a lot. It’s like Mission Peak but without the crowds, such beautiful and peaceful trail with happy California cows wondering around, drinking water and often staring at me 🙂

    happy cow

    Sat Jan 23rd, it’s hard to run 20+ miles all by myself; I love solo runs no doubt but it’s not safe for obvious reasons. So I signed up the CTR Crystal Springs 22 mile race and of course it’s on a rainy day! :-p I have volunteered at this race before collecting parking fees and timing..etc, but never run this race or course before. It’s lots of fun to run the muddy course and seeing the waterfall..etc, and most importantly is I got to apply the techniques and lessons I have learned from Dennis, and surprised to find that this race is easier than the Saratoga Gap we did.

    At 8:30am I started at the back of the pack since really was in no hurry in this training run. By mile 5, some of the fast half marathoners that started at 9:0am ran past me and this was AOK; I learned to be humble in front of mountain. There were fallen trees that I got to climb over or crowd under, and the moss-covered trees and rocks were just amazingly beautiful. I had no sense of time and had to check my iPhone and reminded myself to GU properly. Around mile 9, I started catching up other 50K runners and  some were walking and looking tired. But I felt pretty good!!

    At the turnaround aid station I didn’t linger for long because it’s too cold, though I really wish I could hug those wonderful and very wet volunteers for enduring such horrible condition to support us for hours. I took a small cup of coke as a special treat to myself, and grab two small pieces of PBJ sandwich and started heading back. In nano seconds, the sandwich turned into saggy PBJ soup. A woman asked me when I past her – “Are you in my age group? No, you look too young.” First I was confused and then surprised, because why would anyone consider me as a competition? But as I ran past couple more runners, I started to think that maybe, just maybe, that I am actually doing not too shabby today.

    I saw a guy in white/red shirt running ahead of me, and out of blue that I remembered an interview of Max King. In which he talked about how Rob Krar passing him between CAL 2 & Sandy Bottom at WS100, and how Rob has demoralized him completely. A little downhill came with a right curve and I ran past that guy; I made sure I turned my head a little bit and smiled!! What an evil thing to do, but I was just having so much fun in this cold and wet run, and not to mention it’s so beautiful and tranquil :-p

    crystal springs

    After the race I stood as close as possible to the gas heater without getting myself burned, and was so grateful that CTR had thoughtfully provided hot lentil soup for us at the finish area. This time I didn’t touch any cold beer or fruits; just wanted to stay warm and secretly waiting and see if I would possibly place. After two cups of hearty soup Wendell printed out and posted the result updates with big smile — I placed 2nd in my AG! Woohoo!! Another fantastic run at CTR race!! Of course I shared this exciting news when my coach checked on my training progress while he was traveling in Osaka.

    Crystal Springs

    Sat Jan 30th, another long run per schedule, Dennis told me that we should do this long run either at LGCT or Sawyer Camp, so he could work on my pace. I thought he was planning to push me for faster pace, but I was so wrong. After a fast 5 mile warm up run to the Meridian, he actually asked me at what pace I would be able to run comfortably slow? I thought about my being 2:30 pacer usually at half marathon, so answered that  I can handle 11:30 min/ml pace without feeling painfully slow. Then he had me practicing the 15 min run/5 min walk interval and this would be the race strategy he wants me to apply at AR50. It’s very awkward to walk and it’s actually very hard; either I ended up jogging or I was wobbling. Never knew it’s so hard to do run walk and now I have new respect for walkers at races. Dennis also taught me how to blow my nose without stopping, how funny that he kept ordering me “blow your nose” throughout this run. Finished the 21 miles training at average of 11:30 min/ml pace, and followed by proper stretch and new squat exercise!

    Completed first month of my “Becoming an Ultra Runner” training, and logged 217.41 miles, 24,350 ft elevation climb, 21 runs, definitely my personal record. Also tested and fell in love with Altra Lone Peak, and started fueling my training runs with GU Roctane Brew in addition to GU gels. Doctor approved my running activities  and  only asked me to check in with him again in March.  Two more months to go and this will be a trying and challenging journey all the way to the finish line, but I am committed and will follow through!   Can’t imagine how incredibly rewarding and fun it will be when crossing that finish line! So why am I putting myself through all these? Because if I don’t do it now I may not get to do it tomorrow!

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