Category Archives: Columns

Random articles regarding ultrarunning and the surrounding culture

Party On!

Party On!

zachUgggghhh… what the hell happened last night?  I remember I was going hard then things just started going downhill BIGTIME.   I remember puking in the middle of the night and seeing shit that wasn’t even there!  I drank and ate more than I can remember until I could eat and drink no more.  Finally, I passed out shortly after crossing a line, and after a few hours of terrible, restless sleep I am paying a hefty price.  My head hurts, my belly hurts, my body hurts, and the memory is fuzzy.  Yup it is official, I am hungover as shit.

No, I didn’t get hammered last night off of one dollar Long Island iced teas, I ran 100 miles.  After five 100 mile ultra attempts – including 3 finishes ranging from just under 22 hours to just over 27 hours – I assure you that running 100 miles will leave you “hungover”.  While it is not the same as the morning after a night of binge drinking, finishing a hundy and a gnarly hangover have symptoms very, VERY similar in nature.

Think of the race as the party.  Just about no matter how bad you feel during, you are on cloud nine when you cross the finish line. Conquering a nearly impossible task and transcending your own physical limits can most definitely give you the feeling that you are 10 feet tall and bullet proof.  Sounds kind of like a wasted frat boy to me.  But much like a night of over indulgence, there are consequences.

After the deed is done you finally rest.  The rest is not peaceful or rejuvenating.  It is restless and painful, and when you finally do wake up, it is to a torrent of agony raging inside your body from what you have put it thru.  Day 1 after a 100 is not too much different than a Sunday morning after your best buddy’s stag party – aside from the cat shit taste in your mouth and the empty Quervo bottle.  The immediate pain and suffering after any 100 mile run is comparable to one of the worst hangovers from your college years.

A final comparison is the dreaded recovery period.  Your pals want to get together and go for a run, but the thought of it makes you a little nauseated.  There is another big race coming up and you consider making up an excuse not to go because you don’t want to feel that way again anytime soon.  Sure… it was all fun and games while you are slamming mile after mile…  But is it really worth it?  Maybe you should just leave this nonsense to the younger folks and go walk the dog.  The point is this; running a hundy takes a lot out of most people, and just like your liver needs to take some time to recover after a 3 day canoe trip, your body and mind need a break after 24 hours of running.  Don’t worry, a little time and rest will eventually get you ready for the next time.

There are several parallels that can be drawn between ultrarunning and binge drinking.  The more you party, the higher your tolerance gets and less time it takes to recover for the next party – where you undoubtedly will be able to party even harder!  The good news is that instead of alcoholism and inpatient rehab, the biggest problems you will get from ultrarunning might be black toenails, maxed out credit cards, and more buckles than you have belts!

Until next time, BE EPIC!

Zach Adams

10 Keys To Insure A DNF In Your 1st 100 Mile Race

zach10 Keys to Insure a DNF in your 1st 100 Mile Attempt

1.       Select an Insanely Difficult Course

If you are going to run a freaking 100 mile race, why the hell would you run some wimpy flat course with no technical terrain or high altitudes?  What kind of wimpy hundred mile racer needs decent weather and tons of course support?  Don’t be a pussy just because you have never run 100 miles before!  Go big or go home!  I mean, you CRUSHED that last 50K you did… right?

2.       Continue Your Usual Training

It got you from the couch to 5K didn’t it?  It even helped you slide in before cutoff on that trail 50k.  One hundred miles in 30 hours – that’s only 3.33 miles per hour!  That is a slow walk.  There is no reason to destroy your joints with a bunch of back to back runs of 20 and even 30 mile runs.  Besides, who has the TIME to do that?

3.       Just “Wing it” On Race Day

This isn’t rocket science folks!  Here is all there is to it:  1. Show up.  2. Go to starting line. 3. Left foot forward, right foot forward, now repeat.   It’s that simple.  All these runners obsessing over distance between aid stations, what to put in drop boxes, cutoff times, weather, what to wear…. Blah blah blah.  The shit seriously makes me sick.  It’s never-ending.

4.       Race the First 50K

All this ultra-conservative talk about pacing in a 100 doesn’t make any sense.  Go out and run that 50K like you know that you can, and then slow down.  After all, you are experienced and know what pace you are comfortable to finish a 50k, why would you slow down before you need to?

5.       Eat and Drink Only When You FEEL Like It

Only eat and drink when you are hungry and thirsty.  Don’t cram food down your throat if your gut is upset.  All that will do is make you puke, and when you puke you are DONE.  Everyone knows this.  If you aren’t hungry – don’t eat.  If you aren’t thirsty –don’t drink.  This isn’t a shitty Weight Watchers meeting or your company fat-boy weight loss competition… why the hell would you count calories?  Besides, you have plenty of extra to burn, I mean c’mon we have all seen these fatties who run 100’s.

6.       Avoid Lube

Lube?  Seriously?  Are you a car? No. So why would you lube yourself?  Quit thinking you are some kind of machine that needs to stay fine tuned and well oiled.  What an ego you have!  All it is going to do is make you all greasy, smelly, and uncomfortable.  It will settle in your expensive running gear to grab all the dirt and road dust.    When you get that stuff on your fingers, it is nearly impossible to get off.  No one wants you grabbing stuff off the aid station tables with gross fingers.  NASTY!  Save the lube bottle for the bedroom fun you will be having with your significant other the night after!

7.       Go It Alone

You already have very few friends outside the community of ultrarunning weirdoes you know.  Do you really want ruin the few remaining friendships you have by asking your high school BFF to chase you around the countryside just to wait a few hours to do it again – just to fill your water bottles and pop your blisters?  I think not.  What about asking an ultrarunner who is injured or tapering?   Don’t think so… you already have to spend enough time with these psychos at prerace and at every aid satiation.  Take my advice; Go it alone.

8.       Find a Chair

25-30 hours is a long ass time.  Find a chair, take a load off and sit down for a while.  Hell, lay down for a while if you want.  Find a nice warm fire and get comfy.  A stop of 1 or 2 hours isn’t going to do anything but help.  I mean, it’s not like you are going to win. And you DO HAVE 30 hours.  Why not take a nap here or there.

9.       Stop if it Hurts

You have trained like you always have trained.  Surely that poke in your knee, burning toe, or swollen knee is a sign of serious injury!  Don’t risk missing next month’s Color Dash Diva Plunge because you are too hard headed to stop when you are in pain!  Do the right thing and listen to the pain and that little voice telling you that you need to stop.  Keep in mind your feet know best.

10.   Rationalize Failure

It’s ok to quit.  It is fine not to finish.  It’s not THAT BIG of a deal.  It IS just a hobby after all, you would have been running anyway.  Only a tiny fraction of the world’s population even ATTEMPTS to run 100 miles.  Quit acting like this is some kind of soul searching, healing, and transformational experience.  It’s just a race – not worth pain and suffering.

P.S.

If for some reason you did NOT read the title – this is the shit to do if you want a DNF.  If you want a finisher’s buckle – DO THE OPPOSITE.

Until next time, BE EPIC!

Zach

Mind Games

zachWhen you are in the total ass-kicking miles of an ultra, what mental tactics do you use to keep moving?  How do you will yourself through the dark times?  What keeps you from convincing yourself that it is not worth all the pain?  If physical training is the key to running a successful ultra, then mental toughness is the hand that guides the key into the lock and turns it.  If you lack the required strength of mind, there will eventually come a time when bodily endurance and your Greek god physique is not enough to allow you to escape the darkness and emerge into the light of the finish line – where you can bask in your glorious achievement.

What do you do to pass the hard miles?  Of course music or audio books are a popular alternative seen at basically every race 5K and up. Here are a few suggestions taken from my own personal arsenal – the key is finding what works for you.  As an ultrarunner, experienced or aspiring, you should have plenty of opportunities to put it to the test.

Repeat a mantra.  I have had times where I was repeating a chant such as, “Next step. Next Step…” for what seems like forever to keep myself moving.  Once, after almost barfing my guts up on an aid station worker, I gobbled a few Tums and kept telling myself, “I WILL feel better” until I actually did.  I believe this is basically hypnotizing yourself and moving your focus off the pain until the pain subsides – or you finish (which sometimes does come first).

Fantasize!  Use the power of your mind and take yourself somewhere else.  If the “now” freaking sucks, get the hell out!  Fantasize about something so interesting and engaging that it becomes more real than the giant blister on the ball of your foot that just ruptured.  Use your imagination and paint a mental picture of your perfect vacation, winning the lottery, or maybe being stranded in Antarctica.  Think about every detail and then details about details.  It doesn’t matter what you think about… just think about something.  This will pass the time, and once again divert your focus away from your current struggles.

Make a new friend.  Talk to the other runners.  Chances are that unless you are a world-class elite speedster, you will be moving at speeds that will easily allow you the ability to continue speaking.  Use this humanly ability to your advantage.  Ask other runners questions, tell stories, shoot the shit…  This might not work in some ultras (I have been solo for HOURS before), but if and when the opportunity is there – use it.  It is a great way to pass the time and get past a rough point in a race.  I have made some great friends in my time running ultras, and most of them I met WHILE on the trail.

Focus on smaller, more manageable distances.  When the thought of another 20 miles just seems too much, break your run into chunks.  Focus on running to the next aid station, mile section, or electric pole- hell, even just the next step.  These smaller incremental victories will add up and eventually you will be crossing the finish.

Finally, one thing I do when I really struggle is to completely disassociate my mind with my body.  Having a techie background, I think of it as putting my brain in “standby mode”.  I focus on thinking of nothing.  My complete attention goes to listening to my own breathing, my vision on a blurred fixed point about 4 meters in front of me, reducing my body to a biological machine processing oxygen and sending blood to where it is most needed.  There have been times when hours have passed and I realized I had literally thought of nothing.  On a technical course I may try to get myself so hyper focused on my next footfall that it becomes the only reality – figuring out where my next foot should land, noting else.

The key is never letting negative thoughts invade your mind.  If they do, a runner needs ways to immediately cast them out.  You can literally talk yourself into DNF’ing a race that your body was fully capable of completing.  Excuses at the time that seem perfectly reasonable will make you want to punch yourself in the face for quitting the following week.  Don’t let all the time you spend training your body go to waste because you haven’t conditioned your mind.

Until next time…

BE EPIC!

Zach

Don’t Forget – Enjoy Yourself!

DSC_9349_s_jpgHey guys… ET here, phoning home.  It’s been a while I know, but [insert lame ass excuse here].  I really do plan on posting way more often, I promise.

So it has been a strange cool and rainy summer which, while bad for camping and lake trips, is pretty awesome for running outdoors.  I have been taking full advantage and working my ass off pretty hard since the last Epic Ultras Event – even doing a couple other ultras in which I attempted to run down Epic Ultras founder, Mr. Eric Steele, (failing both times) – he still runs damn good for a grandpa, hahaha! Training can turn into a grind, other times, it can really be grand!  This morning it was grand.

I got up around 5 and listened to it storm and watched the lightning flash in the sky while enjoying a pot of coffee.  The plan was to throw on the 20# conditioning vest I call SATAN for a 5 mile run.  After careful consideration I concluded wrapping myself in a vest filled with metal – essentially turning myself into a human lightning rod – didn’t seem like a terribly brilliant idea.  I took off shirtless (control yourself ladies) out into the rain with my little black pug, Ermah, for about a mile warm-up.  I watched her happily zigzag around and through the puddles without a care in the world, and I decided that’s how I was going to run today.  After I dropped her back at the house, I took off and was just enjoying playing in the rain.  Stomping in the mud, splashing through the small rivers flowing down the streets, and watching the lightning cross the sky combined to really take all of the work out of it.  I was just out playing, and it was awesome.  I didn’t care where, how fast, or how far I was going.  I ran on the high school track barefoot for a couple miles just watching it storm.  I began to feel like I was pulling energy from the electricity in the air and being powered by the universe itself.  I wasn’t counting laps, concentrating on breathing,  or watching my splits. I was just running.  When I got home I had logged 10 of the most enjoyable miles I have ever run.  I hope I can discover how to re-capture this feeling every single time I run.

The point is this – don’t forget to enjoy running.  Don’t get so lost in the mechanics and details that you overlook the primal satisfaction you get from the exertion of moving your body from one place to the next.  Don’t let it become just another chore to check off of your daily to-do list.

I’ll see you guys at Flatrock shortly, and don’t forget to get registered for the Prairie Spirit Fall Classic 50k or 50mile on October 26th.

Until next time, BE EPIC!

Zach

Live Ferociously

DSC_9349_s_jpg

On the Boston Marathon bombing…

Ironically, while I was out doing what I love, helping prepare the Elk River Trail for the FlatRock 101K, a group of runners in Boston was cowardly attacked – while doing what they loved.  I offer my most sincere condolences to all of those impacted by this violence.  My heart mourns everyone’s losses while my spirit rages and demands justice.  While I greatly sympathize with how these people were so unfairly cheated of life, I can only hope what everyone will remember the most is how they LIVED.  These people were living their lives to the fullest up the the very last second.  Let this loss be a reminder to everyone that the last words you spoke to a loved one may be the last.  Whether it is finishing a 100 mile trail run or mending a broken relationship with a family member, follow their example and get out there and LIVE.  “Live ferociously!”  Run down YOUR dreams.  I promise you this will honor those killed and wounded at Boston more than changing your profile picture, sharing someone’s status, or wearing a black shoelace.   Words can’t begin to fully convey what I am feeling.

Zach Adams

Create your badge

I Call Bullshit

DSC_9349_s_jpg

While working on the next part in a series of Prairie Spirit 100 blog entries I am affectionately calling “A Series of Snowfortunate Events”, I began to notice a bubbling cauldron of horseshit on social media that I have to call out.  It seems that there is some serious whining going on.  People are whining about not getting the chance to finish the Inaugural Prairie Spirit Trail 100 Mile Ultra Race because the Kansas Department of Wildlife Parks and Tourism shut the course down.  People are whining because they deserve (cough cough) a 50 mile buckle at least.  I saw some whining that the course should have been shut down sooner because it was getting dangerous.  I’ll make sure and call the organizers of Badwater to piss and moan that the elevation and temperature changes make it hard to train when you live in Kansas.  Blah.. waaa… waaaa.  Not epic.  Not epic at all.

You really want a buckle that says “100 mile finisher” when you did not finish the course?  I don’t care if you quit because you sprained your eyelid or Mother Nature took a giant shit on the trail that you couldn’t climb over.  I want that 100 mile buckle real bad but I don’t want it unless I earn it – regardless of mitigating factors.  I don’t want a 50 mile buckle because I ran almost 80.  Look… I am disappointed too.  This is my second try at 100 and second DNF.  I am freaking 0-2.  I plan on taking the disappointment and burning it as fuel in my next attempt.  I want to carry my sore, stumbling ass across the finish feeling one step away from death – so I get the full experience.  After all isn’t  this what ultrarunning is all about…  the EXPERIENCE?  I dare you to say that this was an experience you will ever forget.  Oh, and if you ever felt in mortal danger, you should have dropped, regardless of whether or not they were “shutting down the race”.

So take your feeling-sorry-for-yourself, its-not-fair attitude and your elitist roadrunner mentality and go sign up for a nice spring half-marathon on a flat, shady, chip-timed, certified course with an aid station every 1.5 miles.  This is ultrarunning… there is no room for this cancerous attitude here.  This is the draw of running off-road ultras.  The people involved, the collective badassery, and the indestructible spirit – even in the face of failure and adversity – is what made me fall in love with running ultras.  Don’t screw it up…  If you read this and get all butthurt, I am sorry.   I am sorry that I am running on some of the same courses as a big ass whiner with a sense of entitlement.

Don’t we start running ultras because there is a chance we won’t be able to finish them?       </rant>

Stay EPIC.

Zach

Gut Check

DSC_9349_s_jpgGut check.  These are the two simple words I sometimes repeat over and over to myself when I am struggling during a run.  When I am tired, sore,  miserable, and would rather quit than continue,  I set my eyes to the next landmark…hill, pole, post, bridge, mile marker, or whatever else I can see (or hallucinate  and I tell myself that’s all I need to worry about.  Gut check.  Gut Check.  GUT CHECK!  GUT CHECK!! If I take a walk break and start to think that I can’t run anymore, I internally hiss the words.  Gut check.  Then I take a few faster steps and start to jog again.  It is my own special way to kick my ass back into gear or just keep on chugging.

Call it whatever you want.  Call it perseverance, persistence, mental toughness, intestinal fortitude, inner badassery, epicness, or just plain stubbornness.  The will to keep going when most people would just lay down and die.  Ultrarunners have a higher level of this attribute than most normal people, whether it is a natural personality trait or an acquired skill.  This state of mind does ebb and flow however; sometimes an ultrarunner will need to employ some techniques to help them remember their inner tough girl or guy.  Here are a few techniques I have used to help get me across the finish.

1.  Recite Your Mantra – The recitation of a mantra can really help get you though some tough times.  Like I said, I like to repeat, “Gut Check” over and over – sometimes out loud – when I am struggling.  I have also been known to repeat “The only distance that matters is the distance I cover in the next step.”  My military memories usually bring out,  “Left, Right, Left, Right, Left, Right, KILL”.  A mantra gives you a cadence and can almost put you in a trance, taking you away from the immediate pain and discomfort.  Before you know it, the food or gel has kicked in and you start feeling better.

2. Always Talk to Strangers – Yes, I know your mama told you not to.  I am telling you to throw that shit out the window.  For me one of the best ways to pass time on a long ultra is to take the time to talk to other ultrarunners.  Most do so more than willingly – even if they may be too shy to initiate the conversation.  We all know how shy ultrarunners can be…yes that’s sarcasm.  The truth is, most of them are just WAITING to tell you about other runs they have done, PRs, or their entire life story.  If someone does not feel like talking, chances are they will either tell you, not respond, or speed away.  I have made some awesome friendships that started just by chatting on the trail.  Miles will melt behind you.

3.  Visualize – If there is no one around to talk to, your mantra has gone stale, you can’t stand to listen to one more Pantera jam, and you are struggling with some pain I have the answer.  I know this sounds weird, but it works for me more often than not.  I visualize my body as some sort of biological factory and dispatch commandos, medics, and engineers to take care of the pain and repair the injury that which is inflicting it.  Yes this is pretend…it is a scenario in my imagination.  I once ‘saw’ the pain as black ooze dripping off the tattered machinery which was working my knee joint as it was being dismantled by slug-looking creatures.  The elite commandos I deployed killed the baddies while the engineers cleaned and repaired the machines.  By the time I thought the scenario through in my mind, my knee felt better.  Don’t call me nuts until you try it.  What else do you have to do during your umpteenth consecutive hour of running?

All ultras require some serious gut-checking.  Looking at the weather forecast for Praire Spirit 100  it is clear that this “beginner level” trail may require even a little more perseverance than you had in mind.  Gut check time.

What techniques do you do to occupy your mind and keep your body moving during an ultra?  I would love to hear them.

See you all at Prairie Spirit!  As always, BE EPIC.

Zach

Why?

DSC_9349_s_jpgWhether you are discovered as an ultrarunner by reminding everyone how awesome you are with your “Garmin Connect” Facebook statuses or by declining an invitation to a stripper-laden bachelor party for your best friend because of a scheduled long run the next day, one of the questions you will inevitably and absolutely always be asked is “Why?”  This is a question I have asked myself many times since deciding to sign up and begin training for my first marathon.  Since that time I have made many observations and come to a few conclusions and think I am ready to form them into a somewhat coherent, semi-logical pile of word vomit.

I think I will start by pointing out that while these conclusions are mostly introspective observations, a number of conversations with other ultrarunners during  the heat of battle have lead me to believe that most of us share similar motivations and personality traits.  Yes, I am that guy; “Chatty Charlie”.  I am the guy that won’t shut up when he’s running next to you, always asking questions and cracking jokes. I can’t help it, I love meeting new people and hearing their stories.  As a result, I have observed some recurring motivating factors among the amazing people I have run and chatted with –  in some cases 40 miles or more… and if you are ever unfortunate enough for me to fall in beside you, I apologize in advance for my fondness of zombies and casual and excessive use of  the “F” word.

First, runner motivations change over time. When I first started I was very motivated by setting some personal new longest distance or beating some PR.  Pushing harder and going farther than I actually believed in my own heart that I could, and then actually proving that I could was an instantly addictive feeling for me.  I found myself thinking thoughts like, “That was pretty freaking hardcore, but if I worked really hard I could do something really epic.”  Observation:  Most ultrarunners have addictive tendencies.  Many that I have talked to have taken up running as an alternative to some other less healthy obsession.

After proving to myself that I could accomplish any goal as long as I wanted it bad enough and was willing to make the necessary sacrifices, the atmosphere of the race became my motivation.  I love the whole “race day” feeling.  The energy, excitement, anxiety, and anticipation on race day all give the air an electric feeling.  Cheering aid station volunteers and the race director handing you a buckle after crossing the finish line creates a feeling that is hard to describe unless you have experienced it first hand.  Simply being around other ultrarunners who share a passion for the “ultra culture” is refreshing.  This “Ultra Attitude”  is so alien to most of the people I interact with in my regular day to day life.  Humans strive to be around those they can relate to, and let’s be honest; most people think that anyone who chooses to run for 7 hours straight is a bit off their rocker.

Another motivation for me is the control, structure, order, and peace that the commitment of training for an ultra brings to my life.  Life is often times chaotic and so many things are outside of our personal control.  The process of training for an ultra gives me full control over the final result.  I am ultimately the only one responsible for the success or failure of this mission.  A benefit of ultra training to my life outside of running is that all the hours spent running alone is a great time to sort through the mental clutter that I would otherwise ignore.  Running is also a metaphoric “emergency over-pressurization release valve” allowing a safe and controlled release of the stress and anxiety of everyday life.  Everyone already knows the physical benefits of running, but I could go on for hours on the positive effects on one’s mental health that running can provide. That’s a whole other blog for another day.

Finally, I will say what most other ultrarunners think privately but would NEVER say out loud.  I love the attention!  To see someone in total disbelief when hearing about the insanity in which I have willingly participated is one of my favorite things.  The incredulous look on someone’s face when they ask things like “Do you actually RUN the entire 50 miles?” is like fuel to my fire.  Explaining my motivations and talking about my love for training and racing is something I love.  Call me an attention whore if you like, I don’t mind.  I am.  I love it!  The difference between me and a lot of other ultrarunners is that I am willing to admit it.

500 meters or 50 kilometers, whatever your distance of choice, I would love to hear about what motivates you to just keep running.  Are you trying to complete your first 5K or making an attempt at a sub 20 hour finish at the Western States 1oo?  All positive, uplifting, inspirational, informational messages and comments are invited and welcome!  Let’s continue to build the Epic Ultras culture together.  I would love to hear from you all.

Until next time, I implore you…Be Epic!

Zach Adams