Lessons in UltraRunning
by Nancy Shura
There's always something new to be learned from the sport of ultrarunning. This past year, most of my learning has come from the crew-point-of-view. Sometimes, our clearest vision comes from the position of the seat instead of the feet. I call these lessons Teaching Old Dogs New Tricks…and Beginner's Luck. Saturday, November 18-19 was the second annual San Diego 24 Hour Track Run. The UltraLadies were finely represented by two UltraLadiesMen. The seasoned "Old Dog" was none other than the newly tattooed, two-time trail-100 mile finisher and numerous trail 50-mile finisher… Greg Minter. The Beginner was Steve "what am I doing here" Matsuda, with one 50K, and one 50-Mile under his belt, which he was coerced into doing by Old Dog...big surprise! A cautious Matsuda was encouraged by his good-friend-ultrarunning-minter (I mean mentor) to enter the 24 hour run a mere three weeks before the event. Beginners only training runs consisted of going to races to distribute fliers for the "Run For a Green LA". Old Dog convincingly assured Beginner that it can't be that difficult, after all… "there's no hills and...you're never more than ¼ mile from an aid-station".
So it was that on Saturday, Larry and I found ourselves driving south on the 405 to spend the night watching 30 people perform various versions of running, walking, and crawling around the track at Cuyamaca College. Realizing that our crew expertise would be used to a minimum, we offered to come to the race, mainly to scope it out (I'm hoping to convince Larry to enter next year). The race was to begin at 10:00 am on Saturday. Our runners planned to be mostly self-sufficient, since they could access their personal goodie stash at every lap, if necessary. At the last minute, fear set in with Beginner who managed to coerce his girlfriend Diana to come along and be available for any 3:00 a.m. emergency which might arise. As we drove along, we discussed spending some time with the guys at the track, and then checking into a motel for the night and returning before the 10:00 am Sunday finish. Our first clue to the lessons-for-the-day came when my cell phone rang…
(G)Nancy?… it's Greg…
(N)Hi Greg… are you running with the phone right now?…
(G)Where are you guys?… you're late!… I was worried about you…
(N)We're in San Diego… should be there in a few minutes."
We are met at the track by Diana who informs us that Old Dog's feet are badly blistered and they did emergency duct taping but he needs foot work ASAP… oh, and Beginner… he's fine. Diana and I head to the store for blister supplies while Larry unpacks the truck… it is now dark. Back at the track, we remove Old Dog's shoes and then begin gingerly peeling away the duct tape… without removing the blisters. Old Dog's feet look like just that… they are blistered on the tops and bottoms, with several new hot spots beginning to form. (Flashback to Angeles Crest, 1999, 100 miles, 32 hours, no problemos with Old Dogs feet...what is up with this?! The entire repair process lasts almost 30 minutes, all-the-while, Beginner is logging in laps. With Old Dog now back on his feet he goes a few more laps before returning to ask if I brought my gators! What gators?… this is a rubberized track! What do you need gators for? Old Dog informs us that little rubber balls are kicking up from the track and getting in his shoes… causing the blisters. We take some tube socks and fashion make-shift gators, duct taping them around the ankles and soon Old Dog is back on the track again. Beginner, meanwhile, has logged in several more laps.
The next few hours are spent handing out cups of chicken noodle soup to all the runners as they cross the chip mats. Larry has retired to the front seat of the truck while I bundle up in my sleeping bag on a folding chair where Sandy Gitmed and I can moniter the progress of our runners who are now beginning to layer up with clothing. The temperature is in the mid 30s. By 2:00 am most of the participants have been reduced to walking. Old Dog is continually moving but for 5-minute breaks every hour. Only three people continue to jog… Beginner is one of them. By 5:00 am, sleepiness overcomes them. Old Dog naps for 15 minutes and Beginner is reduced to walking instead of jogging. The temperature drops to 29 degrees. As the sun begins to rise, the cobwebs clear and the "racers" begin replacing chicken soup with hot cocoa. A few realize they have little time left to accomplish what they came for… some begin jogging… Beginner is one of them. Old Dog comes in for one more foot taping and a change of insoles before resuming his steady pace on the track. Inspired by his protégé… Old Dog can now be seen jogging in spurts, alternately walking and jogging. Beginner laps Old Dog and they pose together for a photo before finishing their last few laps.
What lessons can be learned from this?
- 100-miles, whether on track or on trails, is not "a walk in the park"
- Regardless of your training...100 miles is really just a crap shoot
- You can teach an Old Dog new tricks
- There is such a thing as beginner's luck
- Beginners evolve to become Old Dogs
- Old Dog's never die…they go on to do Badwater!
- You can get more sleep both crewing and pacing the AC 100 than you can just crewing at a 24 hour track event
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- Steve "Beginner" Matsuda 92 + miles
- Greg "Old Dog" Minter 83 + miles