The Chasqui Blog
Keeping up with our “Meet Our Ambassadors” series, Hugo Mendez shares his experiences of running his first ultra marathon.
“When I was looking at what races to do in 2011, I decided that I was going to postpone doing my annual Ironman, mainly because I knew that I was not going to have enough time to train for this kind of race. So, I needed to focus on something different, and that’s when I decided to become an ultra-runner! My ultimate goal is to run the Ultra Trail Du Mont Blanc, a 103-mile race in the European Alps, the ultra-runners’ equivalent of triathlon’s “Hawaiian Championship” of the Ironman distance.
But you need to learn to walk before you run. I needed to start with realistic goals, right? When I talked with my coach, we decided that I was going to start with a 50-kilometer race, then do a 50-mile race, and then, hopefully, do a 100-mile one – if not this year, then for sure in 2012.
Picking the perfect race
One of the things that I love about trail running is that the people and events are so laid back compared to the regular marathons or triathlons. Every time I’m at the start line of a half ironman – or a full iron for that matter – I’m very nervous. And it’s not just me: most people don’t talk to each other because they are freaking out. But trail running is different.
The grass-roots atmosphere of these events makes you feel more relaxed and among friends, you can even see it in people’s faces, they look happy – even before the beginning of a 50k race! Another great thing about these races is that you don’t need to pay hundreds of dollars to sign up for an event, you don’t have to worry about driving or flying long hours with tons of gear, because you can find races in your own town! So, I signed up for the War Eagle 50K, sponsored by my friends at Rush Running. The event took place at Hobbs National Park (Northwest Arkansas), only a 25-minute drive away from home, and the entry fee was 1/6th the cost one of an average Ironman triathlon. Sweet!!
Preparing for the race
The few weeks leading up to the race, I continued to do some regular triathlon training, such as biking and running and included lots of hill reps. Usually, the weekends were for long rides and trail running, although I don’t remember running super long. I think the longest distance I ran on trails before the race was around 16 miles. A friend and I did a recon on the same trails I was going to race on a couple of weeks later. The first thing I thought after finishing that run was “damn, this is going to take more hours than a ½ ironman… It’s not gonna be easy!”
The gear that I wore for this race was the usual stuff for trail running. However, a couple of key items I can mention are:
- Compression shorts: I love to wear these. They’re better than regular shorts (not necessarily because of the supposed benefits that you get by wearing compression garments, but mainly because I’m so used to wearing tights when I do triathlons that I just like how they feel. CW-X has good stuff.)
- Running Shoes: I got a pair of the new line of Salomon XR Crossmax Guidance shoes. Even though I’ve only had these shoes for a few weeks, they felt comfortable from the beginning to the end of the race.
- Hydration system: I wore a small Camelbak. I just can’t get used to carrying bottles in my hands (I tend to drink them too fast, and furthermore, I don’t like the extra weight in my hands either), but I think I might give bottles a try on future runs.
My "costume made" bib number
Since this was my first ultra, I didn’t have any specific goals regarding time. I wanted to finish strong, so I focused on staying fueled and hydrated; especially since it was a going to be a hot and humid day (temperatures of 90F with even higher heat index). Being an iron-distance triathlete I take hydration and nutrition seriously: If you don’t, you will bonk and probably DNF. My coach recommended consuming 400 calories per hour. I got that from eating Cliff Blocks/Gu and CarboPro. I calculated that I also had to have 3 sips of Carbo Pro every 10 minutes to cover my calorie needs.
For added motivation, I always bring my iPod, and I use it during tough times, when I need the extra help to keep pushing. But this time I decided to start listening to it from the very beginning, I don’t know why. I had a playlist with mellow songs like Jack Johnson, Neil Halstead, etc., that I listened to for the first four hours. I felt great! I was maintaining good running form and stayed focused. My energy level was fine but I started to get tired of eating blocks and gels. I had some M&Ms at one of the aid stations, but that didn’t help me much.
Somewhere around the fifth hour, my feet started to feel sensitive and that affected my stride and concentration. This is when the mental part starts kicking in… So I switched to my Beastie Boys playlist featuring some of their rowdiest songs, and that gave me a second wind. You should have seen me rapping along with the tunes in the middle of the woods… Probably amusing! Listening to music and refueling at each aid station helped keep me going, not to mention the words of encouragement of the awesome volunteers working those stations.
During the last hour, I took several walking breaks (where I would walk for about 3-5 minutes, and then would run again), but then, when I passed the last hydration point, one of the guys said “only 1.2 miles to go!” Hearing those words gave me a lot of adrenaline and energy back, so I started running faster. I even passed a guy who I was secretly hoping to beat (during the first half of the race, we went back and forth with each other several times). I finished the race in 7 hours and 7 minutes. It’s not a fast time, but finished strong and happy!
The end of a long race is very special for me, and I get emotional. I sometimes cry after finishing Ironman triathlons, and I LOVE THAT FEELING… It’s good to let it all out! However, I didn’t cry this time. For me, that probably means that I need to run a longer distance and feel more miserable to fully appreciate the reward that comes after long hours of pain.
Good to be done!
So, the next step is to do my first 50 mile race. I’m so lucking forward to it!
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