Ultra running 100 miles on a low mileage training plan!

Written by Eric Lubell.

Pre Game

Patience.  It’s a word that would come up over and over again as I prepared for and battled through the Mountain Lakes 100 ultra running course.  I had planned to run this race in 2015, but life happened and I found myself neither physically or mentally prepared to tackle the challenge.  I knew that I wanted to compete in 2016, so on September 28th of 2015, the day after the 2015 race, I started lining things up.  I locked in what would prove to be one integral part of this journey, my good friend Moe, as a pacer for the last 30 miles.  Once he agreed to take on this task, I knew I had to follow through on my commitment.  It was in my mind, in 2016 (10 years after my first marathon and 4 years after my first ultra running event) I would attempt to run 100 miles.

In the next several months I would attempt to keep up with my training through the cold winter months and through some adversities in my personal life which were prolonged and excruciating.  Needless to say, training wasn’t on the forefront of my mind.  But, trail running has become a lifestyle and at times a coping mechanism.  Something that if I don’t get a regular dose of each week, each day even, makes me feel lazy and unaccomplished.  So, I kept it up through the spring.  I blinked, and it was May.  I ran a whopping 66 miles in May.  Not enough, I knew, to get me through 100 in a day.  I needed to step it up a notch.

I was determined to get to the start line uninjured.  But I needed more miles, more time on my feet, more hours spent moving up and down and through the Columbia River Gorge.  More miles on the flats of the Wildwood Trail, pushing the pace.  June passed, 135 miles and about 29 hours of exercise.  I was tracking my hours this year, which include time spent running, altitude training, weight lifting, and any other cross training I did.  I think this was an important metric.  I was determined to run 200 miles in July, I ran 160 with only 25 hours.  Not good.  I was determined once again to run 200 in August, I ran only 177.  But I got nearly 50 hours of exercise in August so I was happy about that.  35 miles of that, and a good chunk of hours, were a result of a 3 night backpacking trip in the Eagle Cap Wilderness.  Not running, but long days with weight on my back and a lot of steep, technical scrambling up rarely climbed peaks.  Not ideal perhaps, but it’s what I had.

September.  I’ve got 24 days and I’ve got to fit in a taper period of at least 2 weeks.  I’ve been warned that you will experience a lot of mysterious aches and pains in the month leading up to a hundred.  Well, I surely did.  I missed over a week, and my last planned 50k training run, due to some phantom pain in my right foot.  As soon as it came on, it disappeared, but I’d lost valuable time.  Over the next two weeks I got in some long power hiking sessions in the Altitude Training Room, hiking over 4 miles per hour for 3 hours at a time.  But, I got in very little actual running.  The 24th was fast approaching and I was feeling severely under trained.  Patience.  I needed to be patient.  I knew I had a great base of fitness, and a very successful run at the MH50 in July.  That would have to be enough.  No need to push it now, and risk injury before the race.

I met with my crew and pacers before the race over beers and food.  My wife Kristin, who had originally planned to pace me around Timothy Lake, ended up taking on the crew role due to her life circumstances preventing her from running too much leading up to the race.  Thankfully, Keith stepped up to the plate and agreed to pace me for that fifteen mile section.  We went over some maps briefly, and we talked about the 3 pace charts I’d put together.  One was for a 12-minute pace (rockstar pace), one for a 14-minute pace (goal #2), and one was for an 18-minute pace (goal #1, beat the 30 hour cutoff).  I had no idea what to expect, never having run over 100k before.  But with the elevation profile and the nice runnable trails, we all figured a sub 24 hour pace was a good goal to shoot for.  This would be the last time I looked at the pace charts, during the race I didn’t carry a GPS watch and didn’t want to stress out about doing math in my head.  I just wanted to run.  My crew and pacers would keep my on pace, I was confident of that.

It’s Friday the 23rd, and we all carpool up to Olallie Lake where I had reserved a cabin.  It’s important to me to try and get a good a night’s sleep as possible, and that means sleeping in a bed as opposed to on the ground or in the car.  It was worth it.  Especially since one of my hydration packs had leaked all over all my spare clothes during the drive up.  It was nice to be able to dry some of that stuff out with the wood burning stove.  Disaster #1 averted.  It was misty and drizzling at the start/finish so we got my bib, mingled a bit, and headed for the cabin to eat dinner, try to relax, and stay off my feet.

Go Time

We assemble at the start/finish and give hugs and high fives to the large number of other people in the running family that we know there who are either running or volunteering at the race.  The weather is cold, but clear and dry.  Everyone is excited.  Everyone is preparing themselves to take on this challenge that they have been preparing for, for months or even years.  People are emotional, worried, excited, uncertain of what to expect from their bodies and minds over the course of the next 100 miles.  Moe reminds me to be patient over the first 26 mile loop, not to go out too hard.  I shake my head in recognition, give everyone a hug, kiss my wife, and line up.  It’s a fantastic atmosphere, and finally, we start.

ultra running, trail running, Mountain Lakes 100

Mt. Jefferson. Photo by Paul Nelson.

I had participated in the training run that covered the first 26 mile loop, and I was very thankful for that.  I’d had very little sleep and no breakfast during that training run.  Plus, it was hot.  So it kicked my ass and it also made me absolutely certain not to push it too hard today.  I didn’t want to be that worked over after one quarter of the race today.  I kept my foot off the gas pedal, with the help of Shane, as we tackled the first incredibly scenic section of the course.  We cruised along a ridge line with breathtaking views of Mt. Jefferson, and dropped down into the first aid station.  We stopped very briefly, and continued down the 6 downhill road miles into AS2.  AS2 was crazy, lots of runners, and lots of crew hanging out.  We stopped just long enough to fill up our hand bottles and take down a few calories, plus get shouts of encouragement from Marta and Christina.  Speaking of calories, I was using tailwind in my hand bottle and refilling it about every other AS.  I also had a timer set on my watch, set to 30 minutes.  Every 30 minutes, I took down at least 100 calories in the form of Louck’s Sesame Snaps.  I used this strategy at MH50 and it worked perfectly, so I was going to do it again.

It was time to start climbing, and it got very technical.  Lots of rocks and roots on a consistent uphill gradient forced us to walk.  Sometime in this stretch, Shane distanced himself from me and I found myself mostly alone.  Reminding myself to be patient, I just kept on going.  Walking the ups, jogging everything possible, being patient.  One short sprint section as I heard some yellow jackets getting agitated.  I didn’t get bit, but the guy behind me got a few bites.  Eventually, after visiting Breitenbush AS again (and seeing a ton of awesome friends on the sort out and back section, and getting a hug from Red Duck), I made it back to Olallie Lake where my crew was waiting.  I traded out some warm clothes that I did not need anymore and also picked up some warm clothes I’d need before I would reach mile 54.  I also picked up a headlamp, despite it being only 2pm.  I’d accomplished my goal, 6 hours for the first quarter of the race.  The rest of the course was easier, and I just needed to maintain this pace.  Olallie Lake was packed with people, all of them cheering for all the runners.  I left there very happy and started in on the cushy, runnable sections of the PCT. I was moving well, and having zero issues with hydration or nutrition.

I passed by Olallie Meadows AS where strangely, I didn’t know anyone.  The next sections were more or less uneventful.  I was just cruising, eating, drinking, and looking forward to the aid stations as I knew who would be at many of them.  I passed by Pinheads, giving love to the Territory Run Co crew who was there.  I passed Warm Springs, and got some great positive vibes from great friends Desiree, J-Bob, Slam Man, and an aggressive but encouraging giant chicken.  Had I not known how awesome of a guy it was under that chicken suit, I may have had to pop it in the beak!  I was now on familiar ground thanks to the MH50, so I knew I had a long gradual downhill followed by an even longer gradual uphill to get into Red Wolf.  I was intent not to let the uphill sections slow me down too much, so I power hiked to the best of my ability and felt like I was able to make good time.  I got into Red Wolf well before dark and chowed down on some amazing quesadillas being cooked up by the Bushwhacker.  I put my headlamp on, as I knew I would need it on this section.  I was still in great spirits, and I knew I had a nice downhill stretch into Clackamas Ranger Station.  I was excited to see my wife and pacers, as it had been a long stretch without them.  I needed to resupply as well.

Now, this is where it got interesting for me.  About 3 miles outside of Clackamas, I stopped to take a leak.  What I saw was not light yellow, nor dark yellow, nor brown, but rather beet red.  F***.  I walked.  I wondered what was happening.  I walked some more, even on downhills, being overly cautious.  I was not dehydrated, as evidenced by ample amounts of sweat.  I had no pain of any kind, except perhaps my quads.  I was worried they would pull me from the race…and send me to the hospital.  I knew my wife, an ER nurse, along with the Adventure Medics team would be at Clackamas.  There was nothing I could do, so I started running again and got to Clackamas as soon as I could.  Moe was ready, he instantly started getting me ready for a change of clothes and warm food.  But I told him I had to talk to my wife.  When I told her the issue, she was entirely unconcerned.  Adam with Adventure Medics was also there, and totally unconcerned.  They figured it was either something called rhabdo (short for Rhabdomyolysis and something I had never heard of but is apparently fairly common) or possibly a busted blood vessel in my bladder from the jarring of the last 54 miles.  They said not to worry too much and to check in with them again in 15 miles when I returned.  Upon hearing that, we all went into regular race mode and I got changed and filled up with some delicious broth and other food as quickly as possible.  Disaster #2 averted.

Keith did an amazing job of getting me around Timothy Lake.  We passed several folks, and ended up doing the whole loop in less than 3 hours.  Keith stayed a reasonable distance in front of me, and ran a steady pace.  My job, was just to stay on his heels.  We had a blast at the Wy’East toga party, where several experienced ultra runners and friends provided encouragement.  I saw Shane again here, not looking so good with some hamstring issues.  I passed the 100k mark on this loop, bringing me solidly into uncharted territory as far as a continuous effort.  However, we were significantly under the time that my last 100k took so I was very pleased.

Upon arriving back at Clackamas, I was still urinating beet juice.  Adam and Kristin assessed my condition.  No pain, check.  Sweating, check.  Feeling great except this one issue, check.  They deemed me fit to continue, but wanted to give me a liter of fluid to make sure my urinary tract did not get gummed up over the last 30 miles.  I hesitated, thinking it would take way too long.  I thought I still had a shot at 24-hours.  Adam assured me it would only take about 10 minutes.  Kristin agreed that it would be a good idea, so I entered the med tent and dealt with that situation.  At the same time, my crew was feeding me and preparing me for a change of clothes one last time. My wife, Moe, and Keith did an amazing job making sure I had everything I needed.  I could not have done it without them.  I think I ended up spending about 25-30 minutes at Clackamas on the second time around.  I remember taking off with Moe just before midnight.  That meant I was 16 hours into the race, with nearly 50k to go.  I figured I would never be able to keep the pace up over the back half.  My legs were exhausted.  Even the downhills were painful.  For the first time, I doubted a 24-hour finish, but I didn’t let it get me down.  It is what it is.

While I may have been starting to have doubts, I kept them to myself.  It’s a good thing too, because Moe would have had nothing to do with them.  This guy, bless his heart, pushed me HARD from the first step to the last step.  Every section that was even remotely runnable, we ran.  If it was uphill, we hiked, but we hiked with some damn intention!  I now knew what to expect out of every section of the course, and that we had a lot of climbing to do to get back to Red Wolf.  Quesadillas, broth, and a 5-hour energy.  I wasn’t really tired yet, but I shot down the 5-hour energy as a precaution.  I was still spot on with my sesame snaps and Tailwind too, but I do admit the sesame snaps were getting hard to choke down.

Long downhill, long uphill, Warm Springs.  Thankfully, the giant chicken was tired.  Many more friendly faces at Warm Springs this time around.  It was a really nice seeing everyone, but ever since Clackamas I had been worried about reaching this point.  It was a whopping 82 miles into the race, and I knew leaving Warm Springs would present me with some of the hardest climbs in the race.  They were a blast to come down, but I was dreading doing them in reverse.  But, there was no way around it, so we fueled up and carried on.

I was suffering.  I knew that at some point I would be suffering.  Ultra running is, to a degree, about managing the suffering.  I knew also that at some point the crushing weight of losing my father would bear down on me during this race.  It did that here, but instead of crippling me as I’d feared, it actually gave me strength.  He suffered more than any person should ever have to suffer.  He had no choice.  I, had a choice.  I, chose to endure this.  Any pain and suffering over the course of this race would never be able to compare to what he endured.  He stayed so positive, and I knew I had nothing to complain about.  I mentioned this briefly to Moe, and he could tell I was at a potential breaking point.  He told me to bring my head back to the present, back to the small cone of light provided by my headlamp.  I needed to be in the moment, focused on the goal.  So that’s what I did.  My legs were shot, but they still responded.  When Moe said run, they responded.  When he said hike faster, they responded.  Mentally I was still on point.  Nutrition and hydration, still on point.  I was watching my watch, even though Moe cautioned me against this.  I knew we had a shot at 24, but it felt like it was going to be very close.  We were crushing people in the uphill sections here, and I credit a strong power hike to really making up a lot of time.  Folks were dragging themselves through the darkness, but Moe and I were crushing.  He’d see a light in the distance, and we’d work to catch it and put it behind us.  Passing people that far into the race was exhilarating and every time we did it I seemed to get even more energy.  Finally, the climbing ended and we got to run down into Pinheads where Brett was still stationed.  This time, with Aly and someone else I didn’t know.  A couple of the nicest people I know, they gave me their crazy encouragement and sent me on my way; 11 more miles.

The Final Four

Olallie Meadows AS was in a new location this year.  Instead of being right along the PCT, it was down a side trail maybe three quarters of a mile.  But those three quarters of a mile were rocky and technical.  We had made amazing time, and Moe wanted me to push for a sub 23 hour finish.  This was mind blowing, and I thought inconceivable.  My mental state had finally collapsed, and I was tired and agitated.  I was pissed honestly, at Moe, for suggesting this.  He was so damn positive and so damn STUBBORN.  Both reasons why I wanted him pacing me.  I was smashing my toes on the rocks, unable for some reason to navigate them successfully anymore.  I was cursing, sometimes under my breath, sometimes aloud.  We got to the AS, and my crew was nowhere in sight.  Weird I thought, but oh well.  We quickly resupplied and headed back out.  I confessed to Moe I thought 23:30 was achievable, nothing faster than that.  He agreed, to me.  In his mind however, he still wanted to bring me in sub 23.

He demanded that I stopped looking at my watch.  He orchestrated a perfect race over the last 4 miles.  He pushed me harder than I was expecting, close to the point of collapse.  He knew the course very well, he knew exactly where we were, but he refused to tell me how far we had left.  He knew ME very well.  He knew I was just about to unravel, but he didn’t tug that frayed thread quite hard enough to cause total failure.  I asked how many miles were left, only once, and I learned my lesson.  He was right, it didn’t matter.  Be it 1 mile or 20 miles I had only one job, to move as quickly as I could over that distance.  My mental game had finally abandoned me.  I also stopped taking in Tailwind and opted only for water.  Same for the sesame snaps, I couldn’t bear to eat another one.  All I knew is that this would be over soon, and I was pretty sure I’d crack the 23 hour mark.  If I had not been so tired, I would have been ecstatic.

finish line, mountain running, race report

Finish line! Photo by Teri Smith.

Finally, I spot the dirt road and I know the end is mere minutes away.  Moe yells at me to run down the very final downhill segment of trail.  I walk it.  He insists that I run the couple hundred feet of road that remains before the finish.  I oblige him.  I run.  I hear Renee say “is that Eric”?  She sounded astonished, and so was I.  I could scarcely believe it, but I crossed the finish line at 22:44.  I was in shock.  My wife and Keith were still in the cabin, having absolutely no idea I would be finishing so quickly.  It turns out they were preparing to head to Olallie Meadows when I crossed the line.  Renee hugged me and congratulated me, and I think managed to keep me from falling down.

Now, a full three weeks post race, I still can’t believe it.  How did I run a 100 mile race training less than 50-miles per week?  Yes, it got me to the finish line uninjured.  But it also left me feeling very under prepared, doubting my ability to finish let alone finish under 24 hours.  I can only assume that the cross training and weight training paid off.  I consistently lifted weights, heavy weights, once a week.  I did a lot of unilateral exercises, single leg deadlifts, step ups, lateral bounds.  A few more times per week, I made sure to take time for training my core and also focusing on hip strength.  I trained my oxygen delivery system in the Altitude Training Room at Evolution.  I will definitely make sure to keep this type of training in my program as I continue on this ultra running adventure.  While I am already starting to think about 2017 races, I’ve yet to think about running another 100 miler.  We shall see….

In closing, I want to thank my wife once again.  She is my rock, unyielding support for anything I do.  I could not have done it without her.  Same goes for Moe and Keith, you guys kicked serious ass and gave me exactly what I needed for the last 45 miles.  I will forever be in your debt.  To all the members of the running family who I got to see either running the course or supporting the runners, you are a big part of the reason I do this.  Your hugs, smiles, encouragement, and friendship mean more to me than you will ever know.  Thank you, all of you.