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Resolutions aren’t really my thing. Instead, I try to knock a few things off the old bucket list and add a few more for next year. And this year, I checked a box in the “Never” category: banging out my first ultramarathon. The North Face Endurance Challenge 50k in San Francisco. It was something I never thought I’d do, and I may have even been a little choked up getting to the finish line. Here are a few things I figured out over the last few weeks of training, along with a list of gear that helped me along.
Things I’ve learned:
1. You can do it. Seriously, if I can gut one out, you definitely can.
2. You can do it on a low-mileage plan. Since I weigh 180 pounds, I thought it might be easier on my knees if I didn’t put in 100-150 mile weeks. Instead, I ran 3-4 days a week, never longer than 15 miles and never more than 30 miles a week. Cross-training with Crossfit, mountain biking, and a quick summit up Mt. Whitney made for a great program to keep my knees happy.
3. Pain goes away. Well, happy-ish, anyway. Around mile 14 my knees felt totally shot-out. As in, I was going to quit at the next aid station, but by the time I hit the aid station at mile 19, I was able to regroup, chug a bunch of Coke & Mountain Dew, and after a few minutes, my knees felt better and I was able to push through to the next aid station. Then the next one. Then the next one. Then the finish line.
4. They have chips at the aid stations! Seriously. Ruffles, man. Stuff keeps you going.
5. You’re never alone. There are little communities of people who run at your pace. I hung out with the same people the whole time, and there’s a bit of a foxhole camaraderie going on. You’re all suffering together, and you’re all closer for it. If someone needed electrolytes, another person would give him a Gu. Someone hooked me up with ibuprofen when my knees were iffy. Much obliged, sweet stranger.
6. Apparently, it’s a ton of fun. People kept giving me crap about how I was smiling. I didn’t even notice. Until I was done. It was a few weeks ago, and I’m still grinning like I discovered the South Pole.
Stuff you’ll need:
Injinji toe socks ($varies) Blisters between toes are the bane of the long-distance runner, especially once the feet start to swell up. Injinji’s toe sleeves are perfect for preventing blisters between the toes. I won’t wear any socks besides these for runs or hikes over ten miles.
Gu Roctane and Sharkies Turbo Gummies ($2/pack, $3.25/pack). Because the Roctane goes down quick (and they’ve got a Salted Caramel!!!) and the Sharkies are like eating sweet Sour Patch Kids. Both are caffeinated and both had me watching the clock for the next time to eat.
TNF SingleTrack Hayasa II Running Shoes ($110) The North Face sent me a stack of excellent gear for the event, but the Hayasa was above and beyond the most impressive piece. The 9-ounce shoes kept my feet comfortable over the weeks of training and got me through the 50k without even a hotspot. The lightweight mesh upper and welded seams made it nearly impossible for a blister to form. Boo. Yah.
Strava Run (Free, or $6/month) Long the favorite app of hypercompetitive cyclists, Strava has crossed the line to become a favorite app for hypercompetitive runners as well. Like many running apps, Strava tracks your distance, pace, time, etc. Unlike other apps, Strava lets you know how you compare to other runners who’ve run your route. Whenever I felt like skipping out on my training, I’d think about my pals who were following me and who’d know I was flaking. And, I found myself obsessing over the people who’d run the Miracle Mile faster than me.
Nokia Lumia 1020 (starting at $110) and TNF Runner’s glove ($40) All of the pics of the race (there were fewer and fewer as the race wore on) were taken with the Lumia’s 41-megapixel awesomeness. I am hugely impressed with the camera on this sucker. I’m getting better images with this thing than I do with the digital camera that I no longer have any use for. And the Runner’s glove sports touchscreen-friendly fingers, so I didn’t have to take my gloves off to get pics like these. Done and done, son.