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.

Kimberley Spartan Race Trifecta Weekend Review

Spartan Race Kimberely (13)

Spartan Race returns to the Canadian Rockies.

KIMBERLEY, BRITISH COLUMBIA

6 months ago (or thereabouts) Race Director Johnny Waite was scouting the location for this race on a snowmobile. Back then, temperatures could have been as low as -31ºF. Now, it’s mid-July and in this part of Canada, it can be almost as hot as Southern California.

Kimberely mountain

This a place of uncompromising toughness; a landscape in which only nature’s toughest endure – the grizzly bear, the moose, even the goddamn wolverine. It’s under those conditions that Spartan Race Canada delivered one of the toughest events ever.

The Sprint, for example, was an intense 9 kilometer trip up and straight back down the mountain in scorching temperatures. The Spartan Super, at 16 kilometers, had more elevation gain than most of the mountains in the Canadian Rockies. The Beast and Ultrabeast were among the hardest courses based on distance and climbing ever devised for a Spartan Race. I have stats to prove that claim but forget all that. Instead, let’s just say that 4 hours into the race I used a volunteer’s phone to send this text to my wife.

Text Kimberley

Let me break it down for you in terms you might appreciate. This was Spartan Beast that was so steep that I will unashamedly admit to finding and using someone’s lost ski poles to help me climb the hill. This was a race weekend where I watched a fellow elite heat racer give up on racing and begin desperately foraging for berries on the hillside for energy mid-race. “Oh boy, that was hard” doesn’t even begin to describe it.

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The standard set of obstacles were in play on each day of the event and if you’re interested you will find maps and lists here. If you are familiar with Spartan Races, you will instantly know what to expect – obstacles like the Tyrolean traverse, the sandbag carry, and the bucket carry etc. Spartan Race Canada tried something new this year, and attempted to include an innovative wreck bag push obstacle. That idea was unfortunately reduced to 5 wreck bag clean and jerks by Spartan Race Corporate. It was still cool, but it is a real shame that Spartan Race Canada doesn’t have full autonomy over what to include.

One of my favorite obstacles on the Beast was the sled pull, and this one was set up on a slight incline making it extra difficult (still got it though). The Platinum rig was all decked out with various levels of rings that required careful planning and that 90 degree single arm lock to complete (yup, failed that one). I also succumbed to the Z wall, as a foothold block was really out of reach for my stubby legs and a leg cramp made it ugly (you know one of those ones around the corner?) It’s a frustrating one to fail but such is life.

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The climbing was brutal.

For the Beast, we ascended ski run after ski run before heading back down to the main fire road to connect to the next climb. One final climb put us up onto the top of Vimy Ridge, and apparently, the views of the valley were spectacular, but my legs were so beaten down that sightseeing was the last thing on my mind. The course eventually began to drop into the resort area with the final quad busting descent through the desert-like dust of the North Star ski run. Apart from a thrilling mountain bike switchback trail (which was probably the highlight of the race for me), there were few sections of the race where it was possible to actually run – instead, it was mainly hiking. Obstacles were spaced pretty evenly and there were 9 well-stocked water stations along the way. Despite that fact scuffles and misunderstandings over water allowances marred the day for some on Saturday’s Beast and Ultrabeast.

Mud and water were conspicuous by their absence – a technical challenge posed by the limitations of the location was given as the reason for this. On that subject, (not that we often drink water on course) if you intend to run the Spartan weekend at Kimberley, a hydration pack should be strongly considered.

It is possible you should also take fuel with you unless you are really good at picking saskatoon berries quickly! You should expect high temperatures, and you should definitely expect to run low on water or to need some hydration between stations. Many people I saw out there were very unprepared for fuel and water.  You can see more about the effect of temperature and exercise here with additional guidance here and here to determine how much water you will need. Google it and ask someone who knows what they are talking about. Test and repeat before race day.

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Back to my race… As I crested the top of the ridge, I took a reading from my watch. I had gained 1980 meters or 6496 feet over the 15 kilometers I had covered so far. Yeah, it was steep. Eventually, I saw myself slip back further and further into the middle and then the back of the elite pack, slowing to a hobble and finally a walk. This didn’t suit me well, and my pride was dented pretty hard when my legs couldn’t keep up with my ego. I was failing at something I usually did OK at. The finale of the race was a downhill barbed wire crawl, the spear throw, bucket carry, slip wall and finally the fire jump.

I was done.

It was a strange feeling for me to walk into the finishing area feeling like I hadn’t enjoyed myself. I almost feel ashamed of myself for thinking that, but most of the time was spent wanting the whole thing to be over. My own pride and lack of preparation were my own problems for sure and I can’t blame everything on “problems with the course.” Many people came more prepared than I was and had a far better experience out there, however, I felt a little better about it when I realized that it wasn’t just me who had a rough day on the mountain. It was steep. Very steep. So steep in fact that it became difficult to enjoy for quite a few people. The scale of the task ahead of people was massive. Racers who finished all three events for the weekend had covered a total distance of 46 kilometers and accumulated a total elevation gain of 4200 m or 13780 feet! A massive congratulations to everyone who made it!

Kimberely Spartan Glenn

But there were enough people who had problems that Spartan Race Canada took note.

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“This is why I’ll never run Spartan again” – Some random

“This is why people say, “never again” and actually mean it”.

– another anon

Or even simply, “Eff Johnny”

– quite a few people actually.

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Despite this vocal group of people, 94% of people who started the beast course actually finished, while 45% of those who started the Ultrabeast finished. This is just about right for the difficulty level Spartan are aiming for, but the question for me remains on will be how many finishers and non finishers will return for more next year?

How many will feel like they don’t want to go through this again? How do we ensure volunteers don’t end up making up their own rules about water allowance and obstacle safety? For the open heat and first time racers, do the memories of the suffering fade and get replaced with the desire to conquer the event next year? If things do change, do we then feel more shortchanged if the event isn’t as hard next year? And what was that log drag obstacle about exactly?

Spartan Race Kimberely (15)

Johnny reached out to me to discuss these things, so we went Live on the Facebook feed for Obstacle Racing Media.

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As it turns out Johnny approached the issues people had with the race in a very contrite and considered way, answering questions for almost an hour. He took full responsibility for the problems with the course design, and promising changes – but at the same time took steps towards reshaping expectations about what a championship weekend would look like.

What’s clear is that Spartan Race Canada (and Johnny Waite himself) has things to learn in this new venue and he seems eager to go about applying the feedback provided by the participants to form a better race for everyone. I don’t think we as consumers should form a committee to decide how a race should set up.

In fact, we need to apply a little bit of the STFU principle and find ourselves in all the suffering, etc. We (I myself) HAVE to be more prepared in order to enjoy these tougher ones. A Beast at an alpine ski resort should be difficult for everyone – both professional athlete and first-time participant should expect to be tested and we should be prepared to leave it all out there on the course – otherwise what accomplishment is there?

Spartan Race Kimberely (20)

Despite that Spartan Race Canada can improve with constructive feedback, I’m full of ideas (mainly ideas I have stolen from other smarter people). My recommendations for Spartan Race Canada and participants in the event are detailed below.

Spartan Race Kimberely (16)

Glenn’s ideas on how to make a truly incredible OCR experience:

(and stolen ideas that I have claimed full credit for).

  1. We’re getting better at obstacles and some of these are getting stale. Focus on making more unique and novel experiences – push Spartan Race Corporate to get those innovative new obstacles approved. I still have a blueprint for a pegboard traverse… that would make a sick obstacle.
  2. Bring back some mud – look to the past races for elements that gave joy and entertainment to participants and spectators – as we discussed, mud and dirt is still part of the experience.
  3. Water obstacles add dynamic elements to an otherwise ordinary race. Water obstacles (even without mud) add that much needed cooling element for summer races. We need a dunk wall. A wade pool. A water slip wall. I found myself almost wishing for an arctic enema ice pool on Saturday.
  4. Photography. Part of our identity as Spartan Racers is tied up in that image of us, muddied but determined. Quality, timely photography makes us feel awesome about ourselves and proves our accomplishments. This was much improved at Kimberley over Red Deer!
  5. Create sections that are exhilarating to complete – obstacle couplets, multiple walls, balance beams, narrow singletrack, weaving through tight tree sections, creating simple level changes, swinging obstacles, direction changes, climbing, rope descents and natural obstacles all stand up well in any race.
  6. Continue to support volunteers with things they need to perform the tasks set for them. Specifically offer shelter from the elements, written instructions and explicit rules regarding water provision and obstacle safety.
  7. You probably don’t need to film burpees for anyone outside of the top 15 runners.

Spartan Race Kimberely (3)

In conclusion, it’s fairly obvious that a race doesn’t just have to be harder to be better. A truly incredible and epic race involves a strategy of variety and laying the groundwork for racers to experience adventure, competition and memorable moments in a balance worth coming back for. If Spartan Race Canada can adjust that balance next year, I think it will be a classic.

For this race, in particular, I should add that we should celebrate our volunteers who spent many hours in the heat and sun to ensure we could participate safely in this event.

I also want to congratulate the effort put in by our top athletes who showed tremendous courage, effort and stamina to battle extremely hard on one of the toughest Spartan Race weekends ever. Our Elite racing group sometimes don’t get acknowledged enough for the hours and hours of hard work they put in to compete in places like this. You should all be very proud of yourselves.

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Finally, for this one I think we can all celebrate crossing that finish line, or hell, even stepping up towards it. Until next year.

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Photo credit: Spartan Race Canada.