By Scott Ludwig
As fate would have it, I entered the lottery for the 2006 Western States Endurance Run via the buddy system with my good friend and training partner Al Barker. For the second consecutive time, we managed to beat the odds and were selected to be on the starting line in Squaw Valley at 5:00 a.m. on Saturday, June 24. As the lottery was held in December of 2005, that meant I had a little over six months to ‘get (trail) serious’—which was exactly the same amount of time I had to get ready for Badwater a short three years ago.
I decided to stick with many of the things that worked for me then (why ruin a good thing?), while supplementing my training and preparation with a few variations specific to a venture on the trails (which I felt was absolutely essential, having been primarily a ‘road runner’ my entire life).
Here’s a capsule summary of those six months:
The Edge of Exhaustion
Although I had vowed (yet again) to reduce my mileage in 2006, I realized that I needed to actually increase my mileage—training to the virtual edge of physical exhaustion once again—if I were to stand a chance against the demands of the 100-mile route through the mountains of the Sierra Nevadas. I resumed my 95 miles per week regimen which, when supplemented with a job that requires 50+ hours per week as well as enough jobs around the house to make Bob Vila anxious, managed to tire me to the point of nightly blackouts around 7:30 p.m. in my recliner. Excellent—this was just what I needed.
In a ten-week span from mid-January through late March, I managed to run six marathons (five of which I actually put forth a substantial effort) and three 50K’s (two of them being on trails, and a third—on concrete—in which I set a state age group record). In other words, I wasn’t merely ‘logging miles;’ I was running relatively hard (something I hadn’t been doing since Badwater three summers ago). The first weekend in May, my Western States pacer—Danielle Goodgion—and Al and his pacer—Susan Lance—ran the Strolling Jim 40 Mile Run together as a final long-distance tune-up. We did reasonably well, all finishing comfortably in around seven hours.
I also ‘stayed the course’ with my regular long training runs: in a five-month window from January through June, I had fifteen runs of 20 miles or longer, with four of them being 31 miles or longer. I was doing my homework.
As for the training ‘supplements’ I referred to earlier, I turned my attention to the trails. As I mentioned, I ran two 50K’s on trails (Kennesaw Mountain, Georgia and Oak Mountain, Alabama), two races I’m familiar with but don’t particularly care for (they’re not on roads, remember?). Additionally, I ran the Bartram Trail in North Carolina (22 miles) with Al in April, and the Pine Mountain Trail (again, 22 miles) in Georgia with Gary Griffin in May. During my run with Al, we maneuvered along the route with what we called ‘Western States effort,’ advancing as if we were going to be doing 100 miles. We completed the route in a little less than six hours. Perfect. During my run with Gary, I gained some valuable insight as to how trails should be run. Two things Gary taught me—that would pay off for me in June—were ‘look ahead and plan your next three steps’ and ‘trust the rocks’ (I have always had a tendency to do everything in my power to avoid landing on a rock when I run—probably my bad experience in 2000 on the Appalachian Trail at the JFK 50 Mile Run in which most of the rocks I opted to land on wobbled, causing my ankles to periodically twist wildly from side to side). Running that day with Gary gave me a lot of new-found confidence.
My final trail run was a night time return to the Pine Mountain Trail with Al, Danielle and Susan two weeks before Western States. We ran ten miles on the trail after the sun went down to test our headlamps and handheld flashlights on the trails. Although we were on the trails for three hours, we considered it a success.
The other supplement? Hills! Plenty of them—numerous ¼ mile and 4/10 mile hill repeats and a particularly hilly 12-mile training route with Al and/or Danielle.
Aside from the running…
I returned to Paula May’s prescribed pre-Badwater diet on January 2, and stuck with it fanatically for six months. As you recall, this coincided with a 101-day weight-loss contest at my place of employment which I won by losing 19 pounds (just over 12% of my body weight). And as I did three years ago, I did not consume any beer the last 30 days before Western States (which was probably more of a superstitious reaction than it was anything else).
The last two weeks before Western States, I incorporated a lot of walking into my daily running regimen (while reducing my weekly mileage as a taper). I knew I would be doing a lot of walking in the mountains, and wanted to get my ‘walking motion’ to feel less awkward (I’ve always hated to walkit’s so much easier to run).
For probably the first time in my life, I kept a bottle of water on my desk at work and would refill it many times throughout the day (usually at the end of one of my many visits to the restroom). Did I fail to mention that I even incorporated running with a water bottle on some of my training runs, something I’ve never done?
My wife Cindy surprised me with an anniversary gift (our anniversary being six days before Western States) of a gift certificate for a full-body massage, which I took advantage of four days prior to the race. I’ve always read that a massage is recommended the week prior to a major athletic endeavor. If that’s true, this was absolutely the time for it.
I watched Al’s video, ‘A Race for the Soul’, which chronicles an earlier edition of the Western States Endurance Run. On the third viewing (which was sometime during the first week in May), it ‘took,’ and I began to actually visualize myself crossing the finish line. In contrast, the first time I saw the video ‘Running on the Sun’ (which chronicles an earlier edition of Badwater), I knew instantly that one day I would cross the finish line on Mount Whitney.
My final preparation, of course, was to prepare for the event mentally. Obviously, the first hurdle is visualizing success. After that, a game plan—which requires the utmost in patience, perseverance and mind over matter—has to be formulated. My game plan revolved around five elements:
- Enjoy the course and the camaraderie.
- Don’t push; take what the course gives you.
- Patience. Patience. Patience.
- Focus on the positives; block out the negatives.
- Keep moving.
Considering I was running well, was feeling reasonably healthy, and was at my lightest weight since I was 13-years old, I was feeling pretty good about my chances of finishing Western States, which until now had been the only major blemish on my running career (the aforementioned failure at Western in 2004).
But just when things are going good…
Sunday night, June 18 (six days before Western States, and the evening of our 29th wedding anniversary…not to mention Father’s Day)—I ask Cindy to take a look at the ‘scab’ on the back of my left thigh, as it’s been there for quite a while and I just can’t seem to get rid of it. Cindy politely informs me my ‘scab’ is actually a well-fed tick, who’s been feasting on my blood for at least a week (assuming I picked it up in Pine Mountain on the night training run last weekend). As I’d been feeling achy all weekend, I figured I had lyme disease, and that most likely my last six months of training would be for naught. I visited a doctor (which indicates how desperate I was) the following day. He calmly removed the tick and said he doubted I had lyme disease, and my weekend jaunt through the mountains was still a ‘go.’ I felt good dodging this last-minute bullet. An omen, perhaps?
Let’s hope so. I have to be in Squaw Valley in five more days.