Ultra-Running or Endurance OCR? Who are You?

Seems like ultra-running and endurance OCR attract the same athletes.  But who are they really?  What does it take to tackle the Barkley like Amelia Boone or the Vol State like Rob Greer?  I caught up with my friend Kate Sidoli-Crane to find out what makes her tick through races like the Infinitus 88K.

  1. What is your secret to winning races?

I promise you, I have learned everything I know is by making mistakes and learning from them.

The Secret to winning an Ultra is patience, discipline, and self-confidence.  These are long races, often times you might see people start out really fast, be sure to stay in your own discipline. It’s tempting to get caught up in the excitement at the start of the race, but trust in your training, and run your own race. Believe in your strengths and remind yourself every step of the way. Even if you have to drop back and let a few people pass you, IT’S OK! It’s better in the grand scheme than to try and maintain a speed that may hurt you in the end. There is plenty of time to make up ground, rather than risk burning yourself out too early in the race. Your own self-confidence can carry you further than you could ever imagine. know what you’re good at, exploit it, and feed off of it.

Also, an important element is not putting pressure on myself, where I feel like I need to win. I started this journey many years ago for fun and enjoyment, and it’s very important for me to preserve that. I would never want to take the fun out of racing.  These can be the most fun and challenging adventures, and I feel blessed to have these experiences in my life.

  1. What are your training methods and prep for a race like Palmerton?

I would concentrate on weighted runs alternating use of a ruck, #50lb wreck bag, and sometimes even just adding a weighted vest to normal runs is very helpful to acclimate your cardio to some of the climbs.

Besides the regular strength training, I have also incorporated some other methods like a mile of lunges, or if you really want some fun times, 1 mile of burpees (which was approximately 760 burpees).

The strategy behind these methods more revolves around the mental aspect rather than physical. It’s about getting uncomfortable, and getting through these ominous tasks rather than the physical ability to do 760 burpees or lunge for a mile.

  1. What is your race strategy? Do you walk the hills and run in the flats and downhill?

At the beginning of every season, I’ll choose my  ‘A’ races that I would like to do well in, then build my schedule around those races. Using other races for the majority of my training.

I usually set a plan in my mind based either what I know of the course or previous experience. For example, I always look to see how far apart aid stations are placed and use them as a gauge for how long I think I can run before I will need to stop.

For hills, I will try and run the early hills (if possible), then plan on walking as needed further into the race to preserve energy & muscle endurance.

Downhills always depend on the terrain, they can be deceptively tricky. I will go as fast as possible, but if its technical, or slippery I would rather err on the side of caution, and find other ways to make up time.

  1. How do you train differently for endurance races vs. shorter races?

Most of my training for the past few years has revolved around endurance racing. With longer races, I have worked mostly on maintaining a decent pace for long periods of time.

Whereas, shorter races, require you have to practice more speed work.

The key to both is training your body to recovery very quickly.

  1. What are your pre-race meals, hydration plans, and during the race what do you eat and drink? What are your supplements?

Pre-race meals a few days before are the same things I normally eat; like chicken, with vegetables, eggs and brown rice or sweet potatoes. I may just increase the frequency of meals.

On race mornings, I always eat the same breakfast, 2 packets of plain oatmeal, banana, and coconut water with amino acids.

During races, I use mostly Hammer Nutrition products, specifically the gels, and use Heed or Perpetuem in my soft flasks, and plain water in my bladder in my vest.

At aid stations, what works best for me is generally electrolytes, potatoes, bananas, PB&J, and oranges.

Post-race, I immediately drink Hammer Recoverite, to aid in muscle recovery, and use Tissue Rejuvenator for the weeks following, to aid in maintenance and repair as well.

Compare Kate’s nutrition to Ryan Atkins and Rea Kolbl.

  1. Who is your trainer and who else have you used in the past? Compare and contrast their methods relative to your success.

In the past, I began participating in training and weekly classes with Chad Mason from ABF Mudrun, which quickly became my home for years.  Unfortunately, ABF no longer offers training, but it will always hold a special place in my heart of gratitude. That was the foundation of the skills & core values of extremely hard work that I needed to embrace to start racing in a more competitive manner. I have always been mainly focused on being a hybrid athlete, I didn’t want to be just good at running or obstacles…..I wanted to be able to hold my own in any race, event, or challenge.

I don’t have one trainer right now, I mostly work out in small group training environments using a few different programs. I prefer to take advantage of different styles and perspectives on training to enhance the benefits for myself.

And interestingly enough, I have never had a run coach, so whatever good or bad habits I have developed are all on me. Everything I have learned about running has come from my own experiences and instinct.

  1. What other training plans and trainers do you consult and what are you looking for?

I don’t use any specific training plans, more often I am looking for people/groups to train with, just to go out and have some fun, run in the mountains, or go enjoy the outdoors.

  1. Who or what is your competition and why?

I am always my biggest competitor, I never stop trying to push my own limits. My success and failures lie solely within myself.

  1. You won first at the Vernon Beast last year then disappeared from OCR and went into ultra-running? Why the change?

I called this my involuntary retirement from OCR. In 2017, I fractured my shoulder, tore my labrum, and separated my collarbone. In order to maintain my sanity, I looked for other events during my healing process. Also, at the same time, one of my friends and fellow mountain goats moved on from OCR and began doing more endurance events…. so it was almost perfect timing. We just continued on and found different events to participate in. I have the same amount of passion for endurance racing as I did for OCR, if not more.

  1. Who do you look up to in OCR and running?

I really don’t have one individual, it’s more about the support system of people around me that that I look to for guidance and appreciate. They have truly helped me more than I could ever express, they have given me an immeasurable amount of love, support, and loyalty. We are all fighting our own internal demons or battles, whether in life, work, school, racing, etc…we have all been there…. we have all wanted to quit, but you just have to keep moving forward. The support system you build around you helps you hang in there during the lows, and remind you that the grind will be worth it in the end.

  1. Any chance you’ll go up against Amelia or Faye?

Probably not in OCR, but it would be super fun to see them on an Ultra course. They are amazing athletes, and I have the utmost respect for them and what they have accomplished.

  1. What do you consider your greatest achievement so far and what is the Holy Grail you are after?

In June 2018, I ran the Infinitus 88K in Vermont, I was nervous going into it because I don’t get a lot of opportunities to train for elevation (living in South Jersey is only good for sand! lol), so I was relying mostly on strength training and very fearful I would come up short.

I placed 1st in Female with a time of 11:10 and 2nd Overall, but I wasn’t done yet…..

The very following weekend, I was signed up for the North Face Massachusetts 50 miler. My goal was to complete back-to-back 50-mile races. Per North Face spokesman Dean Karnazes, it is the most challenging course in the series. I ran North Face MA in 2017, and it was a very difficult and technical course, so I knew, this was going to test me mentally and physically. I ended up exceeding my own expectations and placing in the Top 10 female at #8 with a time of 11:26.

I don’t have a particular holy grail. In reality, I would just want to continue on my own racing adventures and experience new things, beautiful places, push limits and achieve what seems impossible at times.

  1. What are your thoughts on the weekenders who just show up without adequate training, perhaps to do a big race just as a bucket list?

I love the weekenders, I think it’s great for people to get out there and enjoy themselves. Not everyone has the same goals, expectations, or the time to dedicate to training as much as they would like.

I encourage everyone to get out there and experience the joys of racing. It’s exceptional to overcome the challenges with friends and loved ones and build those bonds, even if you’re racing by yourself and meeting new people along the way.

  1. How would your plans and preps change as you age? Any difference between male and female?

I really don’t see a difference between male and female, I think it’s all on an individual basis rather than gender.

Nothing has really changed as far as plans or prep on the front end, the biggest change for me is the recovery after races. Years ago, I would return to my normal workout routine the next day, with little or no recovery time.

Currently, I still continue with my workouts the following day after a race, but now I allow more of a grace period before I return to strenuous activity, more specifically strength training.

You learn from your mistakes, and early on this race season, I went right into strength training after a particularly difficult race. Well, my turned out my muscles were too fatigued to lift properly and I ended up causing a minor injury to my lower back, that nagged me and took a while to heal. I considered that a fair warning.

  1. Women’s’ times and performance are pretty much on par with men’s in OCR. What are your thoughts on how the race can or should be modified to make things equal or kept separate?

There is no need to change or modify the current standards. There will always be a disparity between the men and women just based on genetics, and I don’t see anything wrong with it.

  1. What attracted you to ultra-running?

Ultrarunning was a gradual process for me. I began working my way up to longer distances, and more challenging events. From there I felt like I had the potential to accomplish more each time. With an open mind, growing self-confidence, and a few bad ideas from friends, you never know what you will get talked into to.

  1. What is your dream race? What destination races would you like to compete in anywhere in the world and why?

I haven’t decided where I want to go from here in regards to distance. The longest race I have done to date is 62 miles. If I want to continue on, and compete in longer distances, I will need to seek some guidance and advice on training and race strategies. I feel like my current race style right now would need some modification to allow for better time, energy and nutritional management.

In 2019, I would like to venture out west and get the opportunity to experience the beautiful scenery

In 2020, I am hoping to be selected in the lottery for the Georgia Death Race.

  1. Do you train solo, team, partner, other, depends? Why?

I mostly train solo, just based on my own availability and limitations.

Working out and training for me is an important social aspect of my life, I do always look forward to training with my local groups of friends, or getting together with my Ultra friends for some training and debauchery in the mountains.

  1. How many miles and hours per week do you devote to training? How do you taper?  How do you recover after training and after a race?

I train up to 3-4 hours a day 7 days a week. In the morning and after work. I use a wide variety of methods because I think diversity plays a large role in my success, and it keeps me entertained, whether it’s strength training, cardio, running, rucking, spinning, kickboxing, or functional fitness training.

I do long runs once per week, depending on where I am running determines the mileage. If I’m running trails, I could run up to 30 miles, but if I am running roads I max at 16 miles. Not a huge fan of road miles, too much impact on the body.

The week of my races, I begin to taper. My schedule Mon-Weds will normally remain the same, but just modifying workouts with more body weight exercises, and modified lighter weights.

  1. What makes you uncomfortable in training and racing?

I have issues with cold weather racing. I have a rather advanced case of Renault’s Disease in both of my hands. It is a vascular disease that affects the arteries that supply blood to your skin. The blood vessels narrow in cold temperatures, which can be very painful or cause numbness. It can mimic the symptoms of severe frostbite. Once, it sets in, not only is it very painful, I lose the functionality of my hands. For example; I can’t tie my shoes, open a simple gel packet, get a nutrition bar, etc…. it’s a very helpless feeling knowing if I need anything I have to find someone to help me.

  1. How do you defeat the mental demons?

So mental demons are much more powerful than any physical ailment I have ever experienced. The absolute best way to defeat them is to concentrate on the positive things during races. More often than not, people will be consumed with the difficult parts, don’t obsess about it. I cannot stress enough how crucial it is to fixate on the positive; like when you get to the top and catch your breath and feel good again, remind yourself about those moments. When you are struggling, take a sip of water, eat something, regroup…get your life together. It won’t last, it will pass and you will be ok.

Those demons are looking for any way to infiltrate your thoughts and convince you to quit…..don’t give them that opportunity. My favorite pastime is also to talk to the volunteers, runners, photographers, spectators, anyone.

Smile, laugh, talk…these simple tactics help keep your mind off of the negative space.

Spartan Race Canada: Sun Peaks Ultra Beast

I invited my good friend Stefan Weiclawek to share some thoughts on his experience at the Spartan Race Canada Sun Peaks Ultra Beast!
………
From my experience with ultra-distance mountain runs and races, there is an expectation that you are about to spend a very long time with nothing but your own thoughts and no human contact. Standing on the frosted grass in the dim September morning light at the start of the Sun Peaks Spartan Ultra Beast, I expected this ~ 50km Obstacle Course race to be no different.

I was wrong.

The initial 10km ascent to the summit of the Sun Peaks ski resort was spent with David Deitrich, an experienced obstacle course racer and mountain runner from Austria. He and I shared the lead for the entire race. On the slower/steeper uphill climbing sections he and I traded introductions and admired the morning views between nibbles on bars and energy gels.

As we completed the summit obstacle and turned the corner to begin our descent, David took off, leaving me in behind in solo second place. I settled into a pace, chewed on a Stinger wafer and readied myself for 40km of loneliness. There were brief interactions with the friendly obstacle volunteers and portions of the course that looped back over itself where you were greeted with high fives and cheers by other racers in later heats, but the majority of the first 24.6km loop was spent in my own head, wondering just how far David was ahead of me and how far Ben Kwiatkowski was behind me.

As I descended back into the staging area my spirits were immediately lifted by the cheers and encouragement from the spectators, the Spartan Race staff and everyone’s favorite race MC. These transition areas are always a highlight, and usually the only respite you have from the isolation. You really have to find a balance between soaking up as much of it as you can while still sticking to your pace. There was no time to waste, and being in second place with David not too far ahead of me, I hurried through the drop bag area, grabbing fresh hydration bottles and some of my mom’s homemade banana bread (An absolute staple part of my race nutrition) before I headed out onto my second lap.

——-

This is where the entire race changed for me. The second lap of the Sun Peaks Spartan Ultra Beast became a centerpiece all of its own. Any ultra-distance enthusiast should sign up for it. The challenge and opportunity it presents is unmissable.

——-

I immediately assumed that this lap was going to be no different than the last, with extended periods of isolation briefly broken up with quick interactions with race volunteers.  Boy was I wrong. By just the second obstacle of the second lap, I started to run into later heat, single lap Beast racers. The minute they found out I was on my second lap of the Ultra Beast and in contention for the podium, the overwhelming support, excitement and encouragement became a powerful motivator to keep pushing. From that point forward every group of Beast runners I encountered met me with high fives and every possible combination of encouraging words the English language has to offer. I tried my hardest to reciprocate the love and excitement as best I could but there were probably instances where all I was able to muster in response was a smile and a brief head nod.

If I had to pick a point of the race to claim as the single highlight, it would be, without question the “Tangled mess of ropes” obstacle during my second lap. As I approached, I noticed there was quite a log jam of racers, but without any complaint from myself , I heard the race volunteer yell “SECOND PLACE ULTRA BEAST COMING THROUGH!!”  Immediately, every single racer on the obstacle jumped out of the way with complete disregard for their own race or well-being and ushered me through with a deafening show of excitement and support. As I crawled back up off my knees and started back down the trail, I turned around and made sure I took a quick second to snap out of my focus to throw my hands up and do my best to give a sincere, “Thank you!” to everyone there.

I may not have done a very good job of returning the gestures, but each and every high five you gave me went a long way to helping me complete my first but definitely not last Spartan Ultra Beast in a time of 6 hours 56 minutes and walking away with 2nd place.

I don’t know what the final tally was for Ultra Beast finishers that day, but I want to give a big “AROO!” to every one of you. Wear that belt buckle proudly; you worked your ass off for it.

Stefan

Stefan Wieclawek is an Ultra Runner and works as a Rock Nerd (Geologist) in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

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Green Beret Challenge: Behind Enemy Lines

While many OCR competitors, endurance enthusiasts, and ruckers spent the past weekend racing or competing in the more commonly known events of our community, a small group took to the mountains in North Carolina for something different. The Green Beret Challenge endurance event Behind Enemy Lines Class 001 took place just outside of Bakersville, NC for 19 brave individuals.

Green Beret formation

The Green Beret Challenge has developed a reputation over the past few years for owner Mark Ballas’ courses that test competitors with a format typically focused more on push/pull/carry than the standard run/climb/crawl setup. 2016 has been a big year for the Green Beret Challenge brand, as they recently introduced a shorter, faster version of their race series more appealing to the masses (the GBC Operator Course vs Commando Course) and as of this past weekend revealed Behind Enemy Lines.

Behind Enemy Lines: Clandestine Operations Class 001 began Friday evening, September 16th. The event was organized as a simulation of the Army Ranger experience broken down into three phases: Phase One provided a taste of Special Forces Assessment & Selection, starting with a physical fitness assessment. Participants fell into a military formation and lined up in groups of four took turns with the standard 2 minutes of push-ups, followed by 2 minutes of sit ups. Following the calisthenics, candidates had five minutes to warm up for a non-standard run assessment. Being on top of a mountain range, the typical 2-mile assessment wasn’t particularly feasible so a winding trail along gravel roads and wooded ridges was our substitute. Upon completion of the run portion, candidates were given a short break in order to consume some calories, hydrate, and change from workout clothes to pants and boots; we were to be in for a long night. We loaded up our rucks with 40 lb sandbags and whatever nutrition and clothing we wanted, and headed out on our long ruck with only a guess of what to expect. Our first movement had us winding down old service roads and off onto some single track trails until we got to our first task, building a bunker. We were provided shovels, miniature pick axes, full axes, and empty sandbags with a diagram to follow. 24 bags needed to be filled, a hole had to be dug 3 feet deep, and branches needed to be cut in order to cover the top, and we had one hour to successfully complete the task. After a couple of adjustments and with two minutes to spare, objective accomplished. We picked up all tools and materials from the task and kept moving through the dark.

Green Beret BEL ruck prep

Our next task was a site very familiar to anyone who has participated in a Green Beret Challenge. Three casualty sleds loaded with three sandbags each, two carry litters with two sandbags each, a few loaded wooden ammo boxes, and a couple of tires. With one member of the class being designated team leader for each task (who could only guide the team and not help with the load), that left 18 free sets of hands to move everything. Some quick planning for how to move everything was put together before we all shoved off. After many breaks, switches, and struggles we lined up our bundles of fun and were assigned a new task: puzzles. Under the light of headlamps, we had four crossword puzzles and two separate bagillion-piece jigsaw puzzles (mixed together in one box, mind you) and an hour to finish them. After a frantic rush then deep focus on a cold and windy ridge, there was nothing to be done; we experienced our first taste of failure. We continued for another stretch with all of the weight until being allowed to drop it before hiking down a very steep and slippery stretch, leading to what actually would be one of our final (and most trying) tasks of Phase One. The best name I heard it referred to throughout the weekend was “the caterpillar yokes”. Nine wooden landscaping posts were tied together with a sandbag at each end of the post, with two team members to a post. What made it trickiest was coordinating all of the rows to get their “yokes” lifted at the same time before any row began moving. Add in the fact that those landscaping posts couldn’t decide if they wanted to be rounded or flat (depending on the side that found itself attempting to sever the spine at the base of our necks). Around 4 am we finally arrived back to the base camp, with many nearing their breaking point. Backs hurt, ribs were sore, and even an ankle or two had been rolled. “Recover, refuel, and be in fitness clothes with boots formed up by 0600” were our orders.

Green Beret BEL Ruck

Many chose to grab a quick nap; myself and a few others decided not to fall for the trap and snacked around the campfire, staying warm and awake. When the time came, we were all formed up and waited for further instruction. Names were called out, slowly. Eventually, there was a group of 10 formed off to the side from the remaining 9; these would be the separate teams for the remainder of the event. We each received dog tags verifying that we had passed the “Selection” stage, and prepared for Phase Two – Training. In our separate teams, we proceeded to go through short training sessions covering various elements to include team movements in the field, basic first aid lessons, knot tying, and room clearing strategies. Throughout all aspects of training, end even during the initial assessment stage, we were given the opportunity to really think about scenarios and present solutions. As owner Mark Ballas stated, “Developing and testing the mind, body and spirit are the core of it all.” We were constantly prompted about principles that are important in leadership and teamwork, whether or not in a combat/military setting. The final step of the training phase included how Ranger units do their extensive planning (which they admit other units sometimes make fun of, being so in-depth). What I really appreciated about this endurance event is that it wasn’t designed just to push people past their breaking points like most of the multi-hour or day events; rather it made sure to bend all participants, but then focus on teaching them applicable skills for life.

Around noon on Saturday, we took another break to refuel and dress to prepare for Phase Three, which was the performance segment of our weekend. It was time to put all that we had learned and apply it to a simulated scenario that a Ranger team would encounter. We received an Op Order briefing by Mark, providing us with the mission objective and all details available at the time to begin preparations. Then the two teams broke off for their specific tasks in the mission and went through mission prep, planning, and rehearsal.

“It’s about developing organic leadership through unique team building events,” as Mark put it.

Eventually, it was time to follow the plan and schedule we agreed upon. The first team headed out for their part of the mission, led by Cadre Matt and John. Shortly after my team hit the trail, led by Mark and Cadre Dino.

Green Beret BEL Planning

The first team’s mission involved reconnaissance and eventually a room-clearing operation of a secluded cabin in the woods, and for a nice add-on encountered a civilian U.S. “casualty” requiring first aid and evacuation. My team had a mission to act based upon the intel from the recon and perform a roadside ambush to capture/kill a cartel terrorist with WMD components. Upon securing the target, we assessed the components and how to evacuate with said payload, then met up with the other team for a hike out of “hostile territory.” As Mark and the Cadre reiterated, “the scenarios are such that one’s leadership traits are exposed and refined.”

Green Beret Challenge Flag with moon

Upon arrival back within site of base camp, as the sun was beginning to set over the western mountaintops, we were finally told to set down everything. “Mission accomplished” were such sweet words to hear! We were all invited to come to the beautiful cabin at one of the highest points, where the property owners were gracious enough to host our smelly, dirty, tired bodies as we celebrated with a good old fashioned burger burn and some delicious Bird Dog Whiskey, who sponsored the after party.  Many only had the energy to eat, have a few drinks, then head straight to their tents due to the 24+ hours with almost no sleep; a few others took advantage of the time to share a few laughs with Mark and the Cadre.
This event not only tested participants mentally, physically, and spiritually; it allowed all parties involved to truly pay tribute to the Rangers and other Special Forces members whom have given their life fighting for our country. “This is only the beginning” Mark was sure to point out, as he is at this moment preparing for their next event in the Behind Enemy Lines series. Behind Enemy Lines: Survival & Evasion takes place in Texas the first weekend of December. If you want to go through a little pain and suffering, but walk away with some uncommon skills, I recommend checking out the event. Classes do have a small cap, so don’t delay!