I was recently asked by a couple of friends, who will be doing the 012 Gore-Tex TransRockies Run, if I have any tips for them based on my 2011 experience. So I thought perhaps I should just do a post with the random advice I would have otherwise written in an email. These are things that I either did (because someone else advised me well) or I didn’t do, and wished I had.
I have broken these suggestions down into two basic categories: Performance and Packing.
If you have additional tips to offer readers (or disagree with my suggestions), please utilize the Comments section!
Cumulative Fatigue Training
Product testing prior to race: GU, Saltstick, and Erin Baker’s
Preparing Friends and Family
1. Nothing shreds your quads quite like an intense downhill run. And by shred, I mean requiring long recovery. We all know that TransRockies has a lot of climbing that we need to prepare for, but we tend to forget the potentially debilitating effects that downhill running can have if we’re not properly trained for it. We also tend to go fast on these sections, because they inevitably follow a long, uphill slog, and it just feels so darn good. Make sure in your program you get some regular exposure to the fast, downhill pounding that will be part of your daily life at GTRR. It would certainly be a shame to have to drop out because the downhill – of all things – is what did you in.
2. Most people don’t train for the walking part. Unless you are an elite competitor, there are plenty of portions of the course, some a few meters, some a few miles, that are simply not runable, and you will be reduced to hiking. This doesn’t mean that you have to be a slow-poke; in fact, some people power-hike faster than others run. Power-hiking can be a tremendously energy-conserving strategy, and if practiced, you will be surprised how quickly it can move you forward during those tough stretches. On steep uphills, power-hiking while using your hands on your thighs to help push down will help successfully get you through.
Even at a hike you may be breathless
3. Typically the people who come to race GTTR are no strangers to endurance sports. But what tends to ail even the Energizer-Bunny-types is the multi-day format, and the cumulative fatigue it causes. Even those who have ultramarathoning experience will explain that, in those races, you finish, go to sleep, and pamper your sore body the next couple of days. But in GTTR, you finish a stage, go to sleep, wake up with the soreness, and have to toe the line again. And again. And again. To exacerbate the situation, recovery seems to be slowed at altitude. So in your training program, make sure to have some periods of intense runs back-to-back-to-back, i.e. no recovery days in between, so that your body becomes experienced with this cumulative-fatigue sensation. (Obviously, be smart about building up to this, and don’t injure yourself!) During training, ice muscles down after each workout to help stave off the inflammation; during the race, I recall having access to an icy stream to sit in after every stage. I sorely regretted (so to speak) the days I passed on this .
bracing myself for an icy leg soak
4. Altitude sickness is a very real part of GTTR. It was common to see people pulled over on the trail, hunched over and leaning against a tree, partner rubbing their back in empathy. I am a ‘flatlander’, who lives at sea level, and I did not happen to get sick. A total blessing. A friend of mine, however, an experienced mountain runner from Boulder, was on his deathbed in the 2010 race, and really had to dig deep to fight through the intense nausea and weakness his Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) caused. No one is truly immune to it, and each person just has to do what he can to prepare his body, and then basically hope for the best. I am not an expert here, and there is plenty written on the subject that a quick Google search can yield. I just wanted to express the importance of getting exposure to altitude prior to the race if at all possible. I was especially worried that AMS would take me out of the race, so I came to Colorado for a couple of high-altitude training weekends in the two months leading up to the race. Then I arrived in Beaver Creek five days before the race to continue my acclimatization. While I recognize it was a tremendous luxury to be able to do this, I also believe it saved me from having to ‘assume barf position’ every day on the trail. I recently heard about a product called Acli-Mate – I haven’t tried it yet, but plan to. Please comment if you have tested this out.
5. I am a firm believer in the healing power of massage. And given the recovery challenges that a stage race presents, I was very glad to hear that a team of massage therapists is on site at the race each day, ready to pamper the groaning masses. In 2011, the cost was $1 per minute, and the therapists were signing people up for sessions ranging from 15-90 min. I got a 30 minute massage every day, and I’m not sure I would have been able to get out of my sleeping bag each morning if I had not done that. You can sign up for appointments during the packet pickup/registration day (recommended), or just go to the massage tent on an as-needed basis to see if anyone happens to be available. The MT’s are paid in cash at the end of each session, so plan accordingly in your cash-stash.
6. When nutrition brands sponsor races, that typically means those products will be on hand at aid stations along the course. GTTR has the good fortune of having GU and SaltStick, andErin Baker’sas sponsors, and those products will be available to you during the entire event. But YOU KNOW the Golden Rule – never try anything new on race day. It would be downright silly to stuff yourself with GU, EB Cookies, and SaltStick products at aid stations, not having first tested them in your training. You just don’t know how your system will react – every stomach is different. I happen to use all of these brands in my training anyhow, so it wasn’t an issue for me. Trust me, you are going to want to eat at those aid stations, and having to turn down much-needed calories and electrolytes because you didn’t test drive these in advance would be crazy. Pretzels, bananas, and water will not get the job done.
7. I have a husband and small child, neither of whom understand why this is fun for me. They came to Colorado, and wanted to spend time with me every day. It was frustrating on both sides, because it just wasn’t realistic. If friends or family come with you to Colorado in the name of ‘support’, you should make sure they understand that all of your energy that week will be poured into the race. You may not want to have the obligation of meeting up with people in town, or sending long emails reporting on your day. In fact, two of the six days, you will not have cell service at the campsite, a reality that sends some unknowing families into a worried frenzy (‘why haven’t I heard from him? There must be something wrong!’). You will find that the day has a certain routine about it, and that, even though it is only a few hours of running each day, you are very busy the entire time. Just make running, recovery, and fun your focus for the week, and tell friends and family you will check in when you are able. It’s about expectation-setting.
Laundry Line + Clothes pins
Shoes and laces
Nutrition for start
Securing of required warm gear
Ultra lightweight backpack
Money/Credit Card / Driver’s License / Ziploc
1. You receive a standard duffle at registration, and you will have to fit ALL of your equipment into it, no exceptions. One bag per racer. So after registration, you will go to your hotel room and do some serious re-packing. You will realize you brought entirely too much, cover the room with all of your stuff, and begin the process of ‘gear optimization’. You will need to determine your priorities in order to decide what things are necessity, and what are nice-to-haves. Through discussion with my race-experienced partner, I decided my priorities were 1) sleeping comfort (since sleep is critical for recovery) and 2) warmth (temps can drop to the 30’s and I am a wimp). So the first to get loaded were my large sleeping pad, sleeping bag, camp pillow, down jacket, fleece zip and fleece pants. Very space-consuming, but I didn’t regret it. To compromise, I decided I didn’t need an outfit for each day of racing, and packed just two shorts, two tshirts, two jog bras. I just washed them out in the shower, and rotated. (Some people bring just one outfit!) I did pack socks for each day since those are so hugely important to me. I whittled down my toiletries to the necessities (this is not a beauty contest after all), and packed two very compact camp towels – the kind that dry super-fast. With this, all of my basic needs would be met – a good night’s sleep, warmth, cleanliness.
racer duffle bags prepped for transport
2. There is an evening program, and you will be wandering around a campsite after dark. You’ll trek to the porta-potty at nighttime. You will need a light to pack and unpack your duffle in your tent. Your headlamp will be your best friend. I brought a crappy one last year and hated it. Bring one with a substantial beam to keep you from turning an ankle on the way to brush your teeth. You will also likely hang it from the inside of your tent for illumination, as you complete your routine before bed and in the pre-dawn hours.
3. Along those lines, don’t forget you will need shoes for camp. Some people brought specially-designed ‘recovery shoes’, some just cruised around in their favorite Crocs, Uggs, or sandals. But remember that you will need shoes that will pamper your feet after a long day of running, and will also work as temps drop in the evening, and for late-night trips to the porta-potty.
4. Since you will inevitably wash out items, bring some kind of makeshift clothesline that you can hang between the poles of your tent. It can be as simple as thin rope. Those warm afternoon hours are perfect for drying out your things, and whatever doesn’t get dry before the sun goes down will have to be relocated to a drying line inside your tent. A few clothespins would not hurt either, since it is often windy.
drying clothes at camp
5. I ran in a single pair of shoes last year, and realized it was not my best decision. Bringing two pairs of trail shoes is recommended because 1) the terrain of each stage is a little different (e.g. sandy, rocky, muddy), and you will want to slip into the best shoes for the conditions of that particular stage 2) you may get hotspots or blisters. Being able to change to a different pair of shoes may allow those spots some relief 3) your shoes may meet with misfortune – if you have some sort of outsole breakdown, or tear in the upper, you’re screwed without a backup pair 4) your feet may swell at altitude, and you may find one pair doesn’t fit at all on those days. Likewise, beware of quick-laces – if you only have the laces that are custom-cut to fit snugly at lower altitudes, your shoes will not fit you. Obviously, make sure both pairs of shoes are properly broken-in before racing in them. If your feet are riddled with blisters and/or black toenails, you will be quite miserable.
6. The race is extremely well-stocked with nutrition as mentioned. But there are no energy products at the START of each day. I much prefer to have GU Brew in my hydration pack, but I didn’t bring any powder with me so that I could mix my own Brew in the morning to get me from the starting line to the first checkpoint. So I started each day with just water, and made sure to grab a couple GU gels at the finish for use the following morning. This year I will make sure to bring six servings of powder so that I can start each day with an electrolyte drink.
7. Each racer is required to have a hat, gloves, and jacket with them for safety, because the weather can turn threatening very quickly at altitude. You will be checked for these as you enter the start corral each day. I brought a warm hat that wasn’t particularly compact, so my ‘safety bundle’ was not that easy to stow in my hydration pack. It was an absolute pain the a**. Think through this one for yourself- get a hat, gloves, and jacket that are highly compact, and get a stuff-sack that attaches to your hydration pack in a way that won’t create bounce. You will want to maximize the liquid volume of your hydration, so don’t count on much space being available in the bladder portion of your pack.
figure out in advance how to secure these
8. Your duffle, with all of your worldly belongings for the week, will need to be packed, and unpacked repeatedly. Duffle organization (as Type-A as that sounds) becomes important. Sometimes it looks like an explosion went off in your tent. Get a few mesh sacks that allow you to group the small, free-floating items together, making them much easier to retrieve and repack. For example, I had one for socks, one for medical items, one for evening setup (laundry line, headlamp, alarm clock, earplugs, sack liner, etc) – instead of digging fruitlessly through your massive duffle for that iPod, especially when you just don’t have any energy left in you, you can go right to it.
9. My partner had advised me to bring a small, lightweight backpack (even if it is just a nylon pull-close one), and I thought this little tip was an enormous help. After my afternoon shower, I put my toiletries, money bag, headlamp, and camera in it, and I kept it on me the rest of the afternoon/evening. I had money for massage, I had my camera right there, I could walk into town for coffee, I had my toiletries so after the evening program, I could just wash my face, brush teeth, and head to bed, and I didn’t have to go all the way back to my tent to get those things. Laugh now, but hey, I guarantee you will appreciate saving a few steps.
10. I did not bring a water bottle. Duh. I even got one in my race packet, and I opted not to bring it. After racing, and even at night, you will want to continue to drink, and the only thing I had was my hydration backpack. So I used that the entire time, on and off the trail, which was not ideal. I would love to have had a water bottle for camp use. Drinking water is always available at camp. Cups, however, are not.
11. There is no need for a wallet at camp. You need some cash (I brought $300 to cover massages and miscellaneous), maybe one credit card in case you go into town for something, and your driver’s licence. That’s it. Put it in a waterproof bag or Ziploc (in case you take it in your hydration pack on the trail, it will stay dry despite sweat and rain), and that’s all you need.
12. Another strategy for speeding the recovery process is compression gear. After each stage, most people took a soak in an icy stream, and immediately put on compression tights, socks, or calf sleeves for recovery. I highly recommend this. I dealt with quite a bit of swelling over the course of the week, and I even slept in compression socks.
13. One of the funniest moments for me occurred on the first night, when the evening program was over and everyone settled into their tents. A silence fell upon the campground….until the fart symphony began. Long ones, short ones, VERY loud ones…and my juvenile sense of humor took over. I giggled until my stomach hurt. At altitude, you breath harder, which means you are sucking in more air than you are used to. The result is a total toot-fest. The only thing that got me to sleep that night was the earplugs, otherwise I would have laughed myself wide awake. Throughout the week, people stay up and sing at the campfire, have a couple beers recounting the day, etc. (you will find that GTRR is a very social event!) and this can be noisy for those who want to go right to sleep after dinner. Your best strategy is to have a really solid set of earplugs at your disposal (or an iPod, if you are able to fall asleep to music).
after dinner fun around the campfire
Well, that is all of the advice I can think of at the moment. I hope it helps you feel better-prepared – see you in August!
(2011 GTTR – Team EverymanTri)
NOTE: For more answers to questions you may have, see the “What to Expect Technical Guide” (click here)