I had the fortune of spending the weekend in the beautiful Monongahela National Forest, with some of the top tier (read, craziest) runners in the Appalachian reaches. Runners from not only, West Virginia, but several folks who drove great distances to run 41 miles through Dolly Sods protected Wilderness, Timberline and Canaan Valley State Park.
I watched in amazement as runner upon runner, piled into the Canaan Valley Resort Friday night to the welcome banquet and pre-race dinner. It was here I got a chance to speak with the race directors, first time racers, and veterans alike, to get a feel for the expectations that lie before them all.
This was the 14th year for the Highland Sky’s 41-mile race, and while the participation has grown dramatically, (registration opens and fills up within just a few hours on December 31st) the course has remained relatively the same.
Taking a seat on the sideline this year provided me the opportunity to observe this peculiar behavior or running this, what some might call insane distance, and to gather how other runners prepare for such a feat.
What started out as a casual conversation to curb my own curiosity, turned into a survey where any and all runners were able to share the strategies that afforded them the ability to cruise at ultra marathon lengths (anything beyond the 26.2 miles – with is marathon distance) and elevation changes that would challenge even some of the most experienced hikers.
Check out the poll below to see for yourself, the strategies ultra running athletes subscribe to in order to perform at this caliber. From nutrient dense protein shakes, to left over Taco Bell burritos and carrots, some responses are sure to surprise you. I know I was!
While the results may vary, a few things are for certain. No two ultra-athletes are the same. While some runners thrive on consistency, others are more sporadic with their strategies. One of the biggest over-arching themes you might notice, is that regardless of tactic, most athletes agree that trying anything new on race day, is a big NO-NO! More on that and other sports nutrition tips on this page.
Generally speaking, hydration remains of top priority for most ultra-distance runners. While approaches to fueling differ, having a steady and consistent supply of energy is critical. I’ve interviewed and run with several folks who would agree, that at these distances of 26 miles, 31 miles, 40 miles 50 miles and beyond, it’s really no longer a foot race, but an eating competition. The winner is generally the one who has not only trained their legs and lungs, but also their stomach and intestines to keep up with the demand of processing foods and hydration while having very little resources to do so. That’s a big job when you sit back and think about it!
Do you have a particular strategy for fueling up for a workout? What about for workouts that last up to 12 hours like the Highland Sky’s 40 Mile Race?
Kudos to all those that finished this legendary race through WV backcountry! You should be super proud of your (crazy) accomplishment! If you’re new to the idea of ultra running or running through the woods in general, be sure to check out the West Virginia Mountain Trail Runner’s Events. They’re top tier in the sport of trail racing!