Saturday, August 8, 2015

Humble Pie: HURL Elkhorn 50 mile, August 1st, 2015

On Saturday night after the race my dad showed me a list of “things to bring backpacking”.  He and my mom have been working off that list for the last thirty years or so.  It contains a lot of the obvious, though easy to forget, things, like “toothpaste”, “warm hat”, and “sunglasses” along with the essentials like “tent, sleeping bags, and pads”.  It looks very responsible until you read the margins.  Those contain underlined phrases like ALL parts of the stove! and HIKING Boots, NOT JUST Flip-flops!  Margins always contain the echo of life’s unforgettable moments.

The HURL took me 13 hours, but there’s no need for 13 pages of detail.  The short story is simple and should suffice.  I didn’t eat or drink much before the race.  I forgot my water bottle at the start, ran back to the parking lot for it, and so ended up last on the early single track.  I climbed back to the lead by mile 12, blew up at mile 18, and fought off heat exhaustion for the next 9 hours, 35 miles, and 9,000 ft of climbing (yes, Steve Engebrecht’s 50 miler is 53 miles long).  At the finish I narrowly avoided puking on poor Steve, my parents, their car, and my three-year-old niece while waiting for my body to reestablish thermostasis.  The race felt a bit like one of those trains derailing off a trestle bridge over a gorge in an old movie, except the scene stretched on for the better part of a day.

Reflecting back on how and why things went poorly led someone to coin the phrase “eating humble pie”.  Given that I’ve blown up in three straight endurance events, some deeper reflection seems in order.  Bear Mountain appeared to be the result of stress and sadness.  Whiteface gave an obvious excuse with the extremes of Skyrunning.  But now?  I’m beginning to think that the problem is right between my ears, which makes “humble pie” seem ostentatious.  The consideration of my summer is more like sitting down to a plate of humble liver, or maybe humble spinach.  It doesn’t look good, but at least I’ve managed to pull out of it a list, a bit like my dad’s, of things to read before racing again.

Notes to self:
-If the forecast shows 97 degrees and full sun, drink more than a cup of coffee before the race (HURL).

-If the course has twice as much vertical gain - and loss -  as your last month of training, maybe don’t bomb down that first descent (Whiteface).

-If you’re undertrained, race like you’re undertrained (Bear Mountain). 

-The Maffetone approach is great for flat road triathlons, but it doesn’t build muscle worth a damn.  You need some specific intensity before racing a course that has 45° climbs and descents (Whiteface again).

-You’re not some Zach Bitter ketogenic wonderboy type.  Eat some damn carbs before running all day.

-The ultra is a brutal thing.[i]  It will respect you far less than you respect it.  So you’d better respect it one hell of a lot.

-Focus doesn’t start with the gun.  It doesn’t start the night before, or the day before, or the week before.  Focus starts a full training cycle out, or, better than that, many months earlier.

-I know falling asleep before midnight is hard, but the race start is 5 am.  Figure it out.

-When passing someone, ask yourself “are they slow, or am I dumb?”

-When you’re running downhill faster than the people around you, ask yourself “is this my good technique or their good judgment?”

-Saving a minute in the aid station isn’t worth 9 hours of dehydration.

-Saving a minute in the aid station isn’t worth 9 hours of hypoglycemia.

-Heat sucks.  Figure out how to carry ice.  Lots of ice.

-2 of your 3 best races came when you weren’t trying to compete.  3 of your 4 worst races came when you had serious time/place goals.  Consider:  what will my process actually accomplish?

-Eric Orton said that if it feels like work, you’re going too fast.[ii]  That’s crap.  The reality?  If it feels good, you’re going too fast.

-Ken Chlouber got it wrong too.  You’re not as good as you think you are, and you can’t pull off nearly what you think you can.[iii]  Start the race with some perspective and humility.

-It’s good to remember your place in the world.  As Antje Duvekot says, “You can ask the mountain, but the mountain doesn’t care”.  Again, start the race with some perspective and humility!

I’m not sure if these notes will really help me, but with a hundred mile mountain race rapidly approaching, I need all the reminders I can get.

A side note on food: humble spinach.
Joking aside, I actually like spinach.  I like the flavor, and the folate, iron, zinc, and vitamin A complex are crucial nutrients supplied in high levels.  I eat spinach in quite a variety of dishes, but the most common is my typical morning fare.  In honor of getting wrecked by another tough course I’ll call it “humble spinach”.

What I use
-4 small cremini mushrooms, diced and sautéed in olive oil for about 7 minutes.
-1/2 cup diced onion, added with the mushrooms.
-2 pressed garlic cloves, added with the mushrooms.
-Red pepper flakes to taste, added during sautéing.
-Spinach, sufficient to cover the top of the skillet, added at 7 minutes and sautéed with the other vegetables until wilted (about 2 minutes).  Note:  this is about half a bag of baby spinach.  It will look huge at first, but wilts down to a reasonable volume quite quickly.
-1/2 avocado, diced onto a plate.  Pour the sautéed vegetables over the avocado.
-2 eggs, fried for about 3 minutes on one side then 1 minute on the other, placed over the vegetables.
-A simple tomato/onion salsa to top.

This is a high nutrient, low carb, high fat, moderate protein dish.  Caloric load is best modified to match training load by subtracting or adding an egg and changing the amount of avocado while leaving the vegetable sauté constant.

[i] As noted by Scott Jurek in Eat and Run.
[ii] Born to Run.
[iii] Yup, another Born to Run reference.


  1. Insightful as always. Thanks.

  2. Oh man, hilarious read. I enjoyed that a lot! I did wonder as to your judgement when you blew by me on that first descent!

    1. Haha, definitely not my wisest race! Great seeing you out at RRR100!!

  3. Your recipe is a whole lot like my go to morning fare.

    I do two eggs as the base.
    I included shaved Brussels sprouts with the spinach. I use a balsamic vinaigrette that I make myself and like to add a little Cholula hot sauce to topi it all off. Seriously, try the sprouts. If I am getting super crazy I saute a couple slices of bacon (diced) as well.

  4. Hey Yvonne,
    Sounds awesome! I'll definitely give it a shot :)