Rolling with the Changes

Changes are part and parcel to the sport of ultrarunning. Changing your training plan, a race strategy, nutrition, or even the way you attack a course mid-race to adjust to something unforeseen. Well, I recently made a mistake that has left me rolling with the changes.

My original plan to run the Mad City 100k has changed; I am now racing the Ice Age 50 Mile. Unfortunately I waited too long to officially register for Mad City. If an event is not near capacity, I often wait until the last minute to sign up. Ultra training is walking the thin line between peak fitness and injury, and I try to eliminate the risk of getting hurt after having already committed to a race by signing up as late as possible. Unfortunately for me,  in this case my strategy turned against me. Mad City has a strict cut-off time to register, regardless of how many runners are registered. I was unaware of this policy, so I missed the cut-off and can no longer compete. I understand the reasoning of the policy and completely respect it. By no means do I expect any sort of preferential treatment.

With that settled, I needed a new focus. With Ice Age 50 Mile being less than a month away, I jumped for it. And fortunately, I was still able to sign up. It’s hard to be disappointed; IA50 will have some great runners this year, and I will have a chance to defend my title from last year.

I have ran on the Ice Age Trails multiple times, and, as mentioned earlier, I raced the event last year. So as far as knowing what to expect from the course, I feel very confident. What will be interesting is seeing how my training will affect my performance. My training has been specified for a relatively flat road race. This has meant lots of speed work, tempo work, fartlek, and hybrid road workouts. At first glance, this looks less than ideal for a course like IA50, which is full of small, but relentless, rolling trail hills.

I know there is a polarizing debate about how speedwork affects ultra running. It’s my belief that if you are going to race in the mountains, you better train in the mountains if you want to reach full potential. In other words, train specifically for your goal. IA is a trail race with a saw-tooth elevation profile, and last year I prepared with lots of small hill repeats, and it worked out well. But I suspect that the type of speedwork I've been doing might likewise transfer well to the ups and downs of IA50. I'm looking forward to a good n=1 study, comparing this year to last year.

Another thing I had to adjust was my training cycle. I'm near the end of the three-week taper that was meant for Mad City, and since IA50 is still almost four weeks away, it would not be wise to stretch this out into a six-week taper—it's just too long. This leaves me with a small window of about 7-10 days to get some course-specific sharpening workouts in the bank before resuming my taper.

I began on Tuesday morning by attacking some hills. I visited my old sledding hill stomping grounds from last year, and thankfully, despite the snowstorm last week, there was enough melt-off to find a good path for repeats. I didn’t waste any time, logging a two-hour workout that included 100 repetitions up and down the sled hill (a workout I did near the end of my training last year for IA). I set it up in interval fashion:

  • 3.5 mile warm up
  • 4 x (25 rep. sledding hill with 3 minute recovery jog between)
  • 3.5 mile cool down

Admittedly, I was quite stiff during my four-mile shake out run and plyometrics session that evening. However, I was pleasantly surprised Thursday morning to feel very little soreness or sluggishness in my legs. I am hoping this is a good sign that my body is already suited to running IA-style trails... But there is only one way to find out!