Get Motivated to Run in an Ultra

Photography by Kevin Arnold

I grew up in a small town outside of Chicago where the terrain is as flat as a pool table. The limestone quarry filled with hilly crags behind my home was a source of fascination, and where I spent the better part of my childhood summers.

The neighborhood kids would meet just after sunrise and set out for the day's expedition. We scratched our way to the top of each stone pile, living out our mountaineering and treasure-hunting fantasies. Every expedition was followed with a session around a pretend fire, where we'd plan the next journey.

Other than riding my Schwinn bicycle with the flowered banana seat, this was my favorite activity, and one I never imagined I could relive over 30 years later.

From Mole Hills to Mountains

It's not hard to imagine why I was so intrigued by the possibility of running the GORE-TEX TransRockies Run. It had all the excitement of my youthful expeditions, only with real mountains. The original TransRockies Run is a six-day staged trail race covering a total of 115 miles through the Colorado Rocky Mountains.

Two-person teams run all six stages together, reaching screeching-high elevations. While I was drawn to this event, I knew that my schedule didn't allow for the training or teammate commitment. When the organizers announced that they'd be holding the first three-day solo race, RUN3, this year, I was immediately hooked.

I've raced in endurance events all over the world, but none that offered the challenge of performing a single sport with extreme hills and high altitude. Every stage would bring a new distance to cover, tough terrain and a hard-earned view. I had to be ready.

Getting Ready

One of the most challenging aspects of RUN3 is the altitude. Consider this. Performance begins to decline at 3,000 feet above sea level. Altitude sickness can set in at 8,000. The race would climb up to 12,500 feet.

In order to prepare for the Colorado Mountains, I needed to somehow simulate these conditions in Chicago. The ace in my pocket was Midwestern heat and humidity. These sticky conditions proved to be a great way to prepare for the breathing resistance I'd face in the race, as the body has to work twice as hard to cool itself in hot conditions.

It turned out to be one of the hottest summers on record. As my long runs progressed, I learned to run by effort rather than pace, mentally linking the struggle to breath in the humidity with the breathlessness at altitude.

To mimic the terrain, I weaned myself off roads and onto local trails. I incorporated endurance workouts where I'd run and walk, as I knew I would be walking a significant portion of the race. To protect my body, I wove in training sessions on the ElliptiGO (an outdoor elliptical bike) as well, which allowed me to train harder for longer and simulate a climbing motion.

Later in the season, I added trekking poles to a few of my long runs to improve power and balance on hills. My finishing touch was a portable altitude simulator, which I used to ready my lungs.

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