The Never-Ending Reindeer Run (#NERR) Part 3: Lessons

I’m running Uwharrie 40 for the first time next Saturday, so it’s time to wrap my head around running that distance and what I’ll want to have with me. I’ve also had this list open and in editing mode for awhile, so it’s time to wrap it up.

What we did well:

1. Having an amazing co-conspirator is a must. Not only is Joanna more rational than me, but she had a similar vision. We were all about having fun and enjoying the adventure, but we were both committed to finishing the distance. And, we’re different enough we brought different strengths to the planning and execution of the adventure.

2. Running on Friday seemed silly given that 3.5 mi was a drop in the bucket toward our overall distance. However, it gave us a “shake-down” for the long run on Saturday and helped us prepare for the long day on Saturday.

3. Vaseline is awesome. I’ve fortunately had few problems with chafing and blisters, but dry winter weather will sometimes put deep, and painful, cracks in my feet. I had one on my heel that was mostly healed before the weekend. I generously slathered my feet with Vaseline before putting my socks and shoes on that day. Zero blisters despite running for nearly 10 hours, 7 of them in the rain with wet socks.

4. Extras of everything, or at least two trail maps. I lost mine at dinner on Friday but fortunately bought two and gave Joanna one. Joanna didn’t lose hers.

5. I’m not a big fan of gels–more than 2 guarantees nausea. However, I was glad I had one with caffeine in my pack. I woke up with a migraine on Saturday. I didn’t want to take my big-league meds, but caffeine can help. Running helps as well–all the blood going to my legs eases the dilation of blood vessels in my head, which causes the migraine. My headache never really went away, but the caffeine helped take the edge off and kept the weird visuals (like double-vision) to a minimum. I will always keep a Cliff Shot with caffeine in my pack.

6. My Nathan running hydration pack (70 oz.) was great. Perfect combo to have water in the pack and a small hand-held in the pocket which I used for Nuun. I brought extra tablets and could fill the bottle from my pack. I had plenty of pockets for snacks, my camera, my phone, and a small first aid kit.

I learned a lot while running 50 miles on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail:

1. Always have a headlamp, and check the batteries, especially if you are starting a no-drop run on a Friday evening in December at 4:30. You will inevitably start late because of rush-hour traffic and run slower than you expected. I brought my headlamp but the batteries had died the day before. We definitely should have had them in our drop bags at Creedmor Rd. on Saturday. Without Nancy’s headlamps, we would not have finished 32 miles on Saturday.

2. For long distances on trails, plan time, not distance. I planned and ate snacks as though I was doing a 20 mi run to Creedmor Rd (where more snacks were stashed), not considering that it would take nearly 7 hours to get there. I had more snacks with me but didn’t eat them.

3. Focus on my/our needs. I knew this, but still found myself not wanting to slow others down. I should have stopped sooner than an hour and a half to eat something but didn’t want to interrupt the flow of a fun trail run or fall behind the others. Despite a good breakfast, I think I ran a calorie deficit for the rest of the day—fortunately not enough to bonk, though a calorie deficit definitely contributed to my despairing mood at Shinleaf.

4. Refill water when you have the opportunity. I completely forgot to call Falls Lake to make sure the rec areas were open. When we reached Blue Jay Point, we still had plenty of water and didn’t refill because we planned to refill at Shinleaf. When we arrived, we found the restrooms closed and the water turned off.

5. Be efficient at aid stops. Sure, we weren’t in a hurry, but stopping either too often or stopping too long each time added up. I should have been thinking ahead about what I needed to do during the stop.

6. Walk when you need to, but run when you can. Sometimes I found myself walking for long periods even though I felt fine to run.

7. Looking at other “reasonable distance” stage races, I found that most average 20-25 miles/day. Since this was our ultra run for 2013, we wanted one day with 30+ mile distance, but we probably would have felt better had we done a more even mileage split between Saturday (32.2 mi) and Sunday (14.5 mi).

8. Once again I learned the importance of mentally breaking down a long distance into manageable chunks. The only time I was discouraged during the whole journey was when we reached Shinleaf feeling tired and I realized we were only halfway through our distance. Joanna wrote down the section distances on her arm on Sunday. The smaller sections not only seemed more manageable (focusing on the next 3.5 mile section, not the total mileage), but the road crossings reminded us that we were making progress.

This time next Saturday, I’ll still be out on the Uwharrie Trail, hopefully running. My goal is to experience the deep joy that comes from a long trail run and pushing my limits, accept and appreciate what I can do, and look inside myself to see what I can see.

Must be present to win.

Covering ground like water flowing over rocks.

Covering ground like water flowing over rocks.