By Betsy Campbell
Mountain running has been a summer hobby of mine for the last five years. The canyons in Grand Teton National Park are my favorite place to be in the summer. I chose running as opposed to climbing and backpacking because there is no heavy backpack to carry, I sleep in my bed and eat real food at the end of the day.
In the Summer of 2008 I began training at Mountain Athlete and it changed my running. It made it so I could comfortably breathe while running uphill and my body was recovering faster than ever before. These mountain runs would be anywhere from 15-34 miles over 4-10 hour periods depending on where we would go. This would happen once every 2-3 weeks without running much in between.
After spending a day in the Tetons running with a group of ultra runners last Summer, I decided to register for a 50K trail race. Although I admittedly have a competitive nature, I generally dislike racing because of anxiety, but I have always found that the more nervous I am leading up to something, the better the outcome.
I approached Coach Jordan Smothermon 10 weeks before my race and asked him to write an endurance program for my training. I had no idea what was ahead, but the goal of the training was to ensure that I would feel strong during the upcoming race.
When the training began we had 9 weeks until race day. Jordan pulled me completely out of the gym and all of the training was running based. I was skeptical because I believed that my success in running was largely due to the base fitness I had from training in the gym and it was difficult to think about not gym training for 9 weeks.
However, the running workouts were awesome. The majority of my training consisted of tempo runs based on heart rate zones established from a lactate threshold test Jordan gave me earlier in my training. The schedule was as follows:
Week 1: 9 hours of running
Week 2: 12.5 hours of running
Week 3: 13 hours of running
Week 4: 6.5 hours (rest week)
Week 5: 14.5 hours of running 74 miles
Week 6: **2 hours into my training week, 30 minutes into my second run, my body shut down. I could not run another step and when I would try everything around me was out of balance and I could feel each step pounding in my head. I tried to convince myself that this was normal and I should keep running.
**Defeated, I walked to a friend’s house for a ride home and that afternoon, I discussed my experience with Jordan. I told him I had trouble getting my heart rate up during the past few training runs and had a lot of trouble sleeping. We came to the conclusion I was highly fatigued and needed to rest. I’m almost 5’1” and I’m 110 lbs and within 24 hours, I lost 4lbs. It felt like my body had been holding on to everything it could until I gave it that chance to rest. We started my taper earlier than we had hoped. I ran very little the rest of Week 6 and we had already planned for Week 7 to be total rest.
Week 8: 5 hours of high-intensity workouts (I felt great)
Week 9: 2 hours of high-intensity workouts (I felt extremely nervous)
The trail race took place on December 1st in the Marin Headlands North of San Francisco. The day of the race, the Coastal North Bay Area was under three National Weather alerts for flash flooding and high winds which were predicted to result in landslides. It had been raining for 2 days straight.
The race started at 7 am. I got there at 6:40 am and hung out with runners anticipating the start and the “fun” we were about to endure. I had packed a drop bag with extra food, dry running shoes, socks and additional layers. I was told I would have access to this bag at mile 8 and 17. My plan was to put on dry shoes and dry layers at mile 17. A few minutes before the race I realized I left my watch plugged into the wall of my hotel room. This turned out to be a blessing.
When the race began it was just getting light. It was raining lightly and breezy, 60 degrees and completely socked in with fog. The race was a series of loops through the hills. The course was a lot of ups or downs with very few flat sections. There were several false summits, steep downhills, gigantic mud puddles and almost every step was in 1-3 inches of mud.
Within 30 minutes of the start I had completely soaked through all my clothes and my shoes, but the 60 degree temperature was perfect. I was never cold. With having left my watch at the hotel, I had no concept of my pace, the distance I had run or how long I had been running, but I felt strong.
Throughout the race, I asked a few people what time it was or how far we had run. This was enough information that I knew was running close to my goal pace. While most people walked the hills, I was comfortable running. The aid stations were amazing. I kept food in my mouth the entire race, and I never touched my drop bag.
Around mile 18, I was in a fair amount of pain. I felt great from a cardiovascular standpoint, but the mud and slick downhills had put stress on my ligaments and joints, which I was not prepared for. I am confident that the mental strength I have from my years of training at Mountain Athlete along with my stubborn, competitive personality enabled me to finish the last 12 miles of the race strong.
I finished my first 50K at 5:15, in 7th place for women, overall, 2nd in my age group, and 40th place overall for men an women.
Learn more about the 50 Mile Ultra Training Plan