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Tuesday, March 02, 2010

"Dear Meghan...."

Below are my answers to FAQs from ultrarunners, as suggested by Craig Thornley, as the first in a series of synchroblog posts regarding the Western States Endurance Run (WSER).  

Mr CPK asks: "I know a friend who is a very good marathon runner but ended up in the hospital after his first WS due to rhabdomyolsis.  I'm running my first WS this year and wondering what I need to do to keep this from happening to me?"

Hey  Mr. CPK,

For now, I will spare you the nitty gritty of rhabdomyolysis, but will try to give you some direction on how to prepare for and deal with contributing factors that can occur when participating in a 100 mile race.  For the  WSER, you will be up against heat, electrolyte imbalances, and 22,970 feet of downhill to challenge the strongest of quads. 

Heat - It can get into the low 100's in the canyons at WSER.  One of the most detailed approaches that I have seen is Arthur Webb's article on heat training for AdventureCORPS Badwater Ultramarathon.  My personal approach is to train in the heat of the day, although in Oregon it isn't likely to reach more than 70 or 80 by June, so I have a plan for dealing with the 100's on race day.  I wear a hat with a neck protector,and a bandanna with the a pocket to hold ice.

Once the oven comes on, I have my hand held bottles filled with ice as well as beverage to keep my hands cool, and have ice put into my bandanna at every aid station through the heat of the day.  I get wet at every opportunity, particularly in the creek just past the Swinging Bridge, and I submerse completely in Volcano Creek.

Electrolytes - Be sure to practice with the drink that is provided at the race.  Additional salt supplementation is likely to be required to replace the salt lost in sweat.  Whatever one you decide to use, practice with it in long training runs leading up to the race.  Symptoms that may indicate you are low on salt are muscle cramps, nausea, and a sloshy stomach.   Look for these symptoms in training, take your supplemental salt, and see if your symptoms subside.  This one took me longer to get a handle on, but it was my first R2R2R I ran with Craig Thornley and Mike Scannell that helped me nail it down.

I was at mile 45, it was over 100 degrees, and I felt sick.  I had been consuming lots of fluids and S!Caps every so often, although I had not experienced cramping.  I proceeded to follow Craig out onto Plateau Point, but was still feeling miserable.  I took another S!Cap in quick succession and within a few minutes, I felt like a new girl.  The hottest, most miserable time of the day, and I had a turn around.  I knew then that my first symptom is nausea, and have followed the cue since, quite successfully.  Now, I have made it  a habit to stay ahead of the game, beginning the S!Caps early in the run at about one per hour, and increase to one per 30 minutes, while still looking for symptoms that I may need more.

Downhill running - If you are fortunate enough to have some long descents, practice starting early in the season.  Build up to be being able to run 3 or 4 miles of continuous downhill, more than once in a workout. One of my most compact training runs is in McDonald Research Forest and covers a few skills that are WSER worthy - hiking, nighttime light management, downhill pounding, and technical trail running.  Starting at dusk, I hike hard 4 miles up to McCulloch Peak (2000+), then turn around and run hard down.  The last 1+ mile is on a very technical trail, and I run as fast as I can, practicing footing, pounding, and nighttime proprioception.

If you are without hills, be creative - find a tall building, take the elevator to the top, and run down the stairs.  Repeat.  If you have no hills or tall buildings, jumping from a bench to traumatize the quads would be something.  Look for some training opportunities, perhaps a 50k race with some elevation, and later a 50 miler.  Partake in the WSER Training Runs if possible.  On race day, stay within yourself on the downhills.  Enjoy the free ride offered by the gravity, but remember that if you pound too hard early on, gravity can become your 'frenemy' and lead to a slow painful ending, perhaps before you get to the Auburn High School track.

With good training, you won't need good luck!  I wish you well.


Chubster asks: "I run a bunch of ultras, 100 milers are my favorite.  I am usually in the top five, top ten if it is super competitive.  Even with all the training, I have elevated love handles.  I don't mean a little elevated, I'm talking waaay higher.  What can I do?"

Dear Chubster,

Because you are having body image issues, I assume you are female.  From one female runner to another, I would ask that you reflect upon why you want to diminish further the full figure that so many female ultra runners (present company included) simply do not have.  You probably actually are acknowledged as a woman, something that I rarely experience.  While chafe and bounce may be your enemies, at least you are getting looks.  My advise to you is to embrace your feminine body, get the best looking jog bra possible (I have a Team USA bra that is too big if you want it), and work on those abs.   Besides, the extra weight on the chest may help with your down hill momentum.  Am I right in assuming you are indeed a fast down hill runner?

 Do you have one of these?

If you've got it, flaunt it!


This is the first in a series of synchroblogs leading up to the 2010 WSER. Other posts include:

Craig Thornley  Ask An Ultrarunner #1
Andy Jones-Wilkens  Ask An Ultrarunner -- #1
Hal Koerner Western States 100 Synchroblog

I am on – Follow my training


  1. I've spotted a Meghan post! Few and far between, but always more informative than any other running blog.

    Thanks for the tips. You're like a running Dear Abby!

  2. Dear Meghan? When did this become all about you? I guess since you are way better than the rest of us (as evidenced by your collection of spare bras) it is appropriate.

    Seriously though, I had forgotten how much you learned on that R2R2R. I remember having bloody nipples with my kryptonite shirt and having to deal with all the questions from the hikers. And didn't Scannell beat us out of the canyon by hours? Not only was he way faster but he also was way smarter and wisely chose to not take the little extra trip to plateau pt in the 109 degrees. Good suffering.

  3. Craig,
    If I remember correctly, we went specifically for a heat-suffer-fest, and had to convince Scannell to start late enough to maximize the heat experience. I think we know that he is faster, but we are WAY tougher. Without the jaunt out Plateau Point, I may not have had my 'aha' moment.

    And of COURSE this is about me. Oh, did you write something too?

  4. Meghan, loving it, and it's great you joined this macho gang to show them what gals are made of! As for curves, I plan to stop by to spectate this year at WS and will make sure to offer some love handles and boobs to anyone who'd ask. May be I'll even get a skinny a#$ in exchange!

  5. GG to PHS Runner10:14 AM

    Do you think that riding a bicycle, in addition to downhill/heat training would be beneficial? I was thinking about doing a 100mi mountain bike race a few weeks after WS, and that the dual training might be beneficial. Of course, I don't want to break my ribs or a pinky or something like that, where it might hinder my running. But then again, I can a bike without falling down repeatedly- I mean, who can't ride a bike without falling, know what I mean?

    Any suggestions you have, would be appreciated.

  6. At last years States, I had a rather macho size-up-any-woman friend come out to cheer me on. You know the kind - anything less than Megan Fox is going to get some commentary. He noticed that a number of women were ahead of me including all shapes and sizes. His comment:

    "They are all so bad ass! Their muscles and form are amazing, like these mountain warrior goddesses. It's just so SEXY. And I mean every one of them. Your sport is the land of the beautiful people."

    If this guy says it, I can assure Chubster that NO ONE is looking at your love handles. And for you dudes, they are staring at your belt buckle so get over yourself. ;-)

    BTW, Meghan, I don't buy the whole "not acknowledged as a woman" thing. You are SMOKIN' hot! I'm on a plane to NYC right now, and showing your pics to the dudes next to me. First two comments were "yummy" and "sweet legs". So there!


  7. GG to PHS (?),
    In theory, bike riding is a good means of increasing your endurance without the pounding, providing you still get adequate amounts of running in. It isn't likely to help you with the downhill running, except for making your arms strong so they can catch you when you fall ;) And about that not falling off the bike repeatedly - I know, right?

    One training approach would be to do some back-to-back workouts of a long run Saturday, followed by a long bike ride Sunday. If you don't bike commute already, I recommend it as well, just to get more saddle time and practice getting in and out of your peddles. Oh, that's right, you already know how to ride.

    This is going to be a very tough double to pull off, but if LB can do it....

    Good luck!

  8. Scott,
    Have I told you how much I love you lately?


  9. GG to PHS? Is this supposed to represent where you spend the majority of your time during WS? Walking from Green Gate to Placer HS? Thanks for the great question, although it is a bit chicken sh&t asking it on Meghan's blog. But, I think I know who you are and understand why you'd do it this way.