Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Top Five Things I Learned from My First 50 Miler

Written by: John Knotts


Photo courtesy of Ken Schuh

I recently completed my first 50 miler, The North Face Endurance Challenge, in San Francisco on December 1, 2012. This experience taught me a lot about myself and running. Below are the top five things I took away from the training process.

#5 Seek Wisdom from Others

We are blessed to live in trail running mecca, Bend, OR, with an awesome community of runners. If you can’t find runners in your area, check out online communities like Seek out other runners and ask lots of questions. The wisdom of those that have gone before you is priceless. I owe a special thanks Tonya Littlehales, Rob DeClerk, MaxKing, Julianne Whitelaw, KellyCooks and Dr. Bari. They were all very gracious and took the time to answer my endless questions.

Photo courtesy of Ken Schuh

#4 You Are an Experiment of One

What works for one person doesn't necessarily work for you. And sometimes what works for you one day, may not work on a different day. It's a lot of trial and error. I tried several different brands of nutritional products, two or three different training plans, and tested endless pairs of shoes. It takes time to figure out what works. And sometimes a shoe that is great for 10 miles sucks after 20 miles. Thanks to the FootZone for taking my returns ...and my credit card.

#3 Slow Down

Photo courtesy of Ken Schuh

You have to start your ultra at a ridiculously easy pace. Your body only has so much blood to go around and if it's all going to your legs (and skin if it's hot), you won't have any left for your stomach. And if there's no blood going to your stomach, you can't digest food. And if you can't digest food, you can't go more than a couple of hours. At least not without hitting a really rough spot (see #1). If you're like me, you'll find this out the hard way (see #4).

#2 Be Prepared for the Unexpected

A huge storm slammed northern California, right before the North Face Endurance Challenge, and completely drenched the course. The race tents were repeatedly blown down and destroyed. California State Parks denied race access due to safety and erosion concerns, which meant the race course had to be changed the night before the race.

You always hear people say to be prepared for the unexpected. As I stood at the start line in the dark and mud, rain horizontal in my face, and my headlamp only able to reflect the fog two feet in front of my face... it did cross my mind that this was not what I signed up for. I had expected to escape a bit of the Bend winter and race in some warm California sunshine.

Photo courtesy of Ken Schuh

#1 You Can Go Through a Bad Patch and Come Out the Other Side

I saved this for #1 because it was the most shocking truth I learned about ultrarunning during this whole process. Until I started running really long distances, a bad day would consist of bonking and crawling home. Bonking, or "the wall", always ended my workout. I never imagined that you could go through that and feel good again without a shower, a huge meal, and a good night's sleep. But you can. Just keep moving. Try to eat, try to drink, try salt. Pay attention to your body and try to figure out what's going wrong. And just keep moving. In ultras, it's not a bonk, it's just "a bad patch".

John Knotts resides in Bend OR with his wife and three kids. He is a stay-at-home dad and decided to finally embrace running in 2012 after flirting with it for most of his life. He can be found around the web, but most easily via his new website

Special thanks to Ken Schuh and The North Face.




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