It was October 2019 and I had just finished my biggest athletic challenge ever, completing the Last Great Race of Ultrarunning. This Slam consists of running the six oldest 100 mile races in the US in the span of 14 weeks, Old Dominion 100 in Virginia, Western States 100 in California, Vermont 100, Angeles Crest 100 in California, Leadville 100 in Colorado and Wasatch Front 100 in Utah. I started in June and was done by September. I added the Arkansas Traveler 100 in October as it represented the 8th oldest race and really, why not. That year, only one other runner, Sean Nakamura, attempted and completed this Slam alongside me, making us the 40th and 41st runners in 35+ years to complete this challenging series.
However, my contentment didn't last long. In fact, less than a week after finishing the Arkansas Traveler 100, I was wondering what would be, what could be next. How could I possibly top this personal accomplishment? Did I really need to top this? After about a day of contemplation I came up with my next challenge. I decided from the get go that this would be my last volume focused running challenge. I wanted to race 1,000 miles in the span of 14 weeks, the California Untamed 330, Bigfoot 200, Tahoe 200 and Moab 240 plus a 50K TBD. I named this running project the Untamed Triple Crown or UTC1000. And then COVID happened...and some wildfires...and suddenly my massive project was a massive bust.
Fast forward to January 2021. The California Untamed 330 had been postponed indefinitely, but it seemed the Triple Crown was very likely to happen. Luckily, I was able to roll over my entries from 2020 to 2021. My "consolation prize" for not being able to run the California Untamed 330 was my draw in the UTMB lottery to allow me to go for a third finish at that world class event that has all the feels and excitement of a Tour de France like spectacle. While it didn't add up to 1,000 miles, it easily added up to 1,000+ kilometers. I was perfectly fine with that. After all, I had an entire year to think about my choices. I was also a year older, which meant that I would attempt this challenge as my 50th birthday challenge.
I started to train in late January. So how do you train for a 200 miler, let alone three of them? No really, I didn't know. I still don't. The furthest I had gone previously was 120 miles at the Fat Dog 120 Miler in British Columbia, Canada. This was an entirely different scenario. So many things to consider, so let's just start with the actual training. My training cycle basically started at zero as I was previously dealing with some unrelated health issues. I decided to build my training plan the same way I built my training plan for my summer of 100s in 2019. After all, there was only so much time in a day and I still had a family and a job to take care of. As a result, I decided early on that my mileage would be very similar. For the most part, I was able to stick to my overall plan. I would allow for changes/adjustments due to work, so it hopefully wouldn't affect me mentally when it did happen.
Expect the unexpected, it's kinda how we are raised in Germany, well, at least I was. I focused on base building and I made strength training a major component of my training along with a strict whole foods plant based diet. Strength training would support injury prevention and the diet would prevent serious inflammation and quicker recovery. I learned that in the summer of 2019.
I would run 3-4 weeks, increasing mileage slightly back week before dropping mileage slightly ahead of the next 3-4 week cycle. All running was done at a low heart rate. I was following a strict MAF protocol (see Dr. Phile Maffetone) as that would not only ensure I build my aerobic base, but it would also help me prevent injury due to hard track sessions. I rely on hill repeats rather than track workouts as I seem to not injure myself ever and still get similar aerobic benefits. Everything went extremely well. I knocked out a hilly road half marathon as a training run missing my 7 year old PR by less than 2 minutes and I even managed to snag the course record at the gnarly Double Top 100K in Georgia. I did not expect what came next. I rolled my ankle the following weekend and had to take close to 2 weeks off from running. I was able to continue training shortly after, but with slightly lower mileage and great focus on the tender ankle. I stayed exclusively on roads for 6 weeks before getting back on the trails and boom...rolled it again. I was able to walk it off, but it became clear that the tendon was no longer keeping my ankle from rolling, only my muscles were doing their job. Multiple ankle rolls have followed, usually at the very end of long efforts on the final downhills whenever my focus shifted away from the trail ahead of me.
I continued training as best I could. Ultrarunning is all about problem solving and overcoming challenges and this was just part of the deal. Fast forward, just over 2 weeks out from the start of the Bigfoot 200, I had an MRI on my neck done, diagnosed with a bulging disc. Yet another obstacle on the road to finishing my biggest challenge to date. But obstacles are there to be overcome. Ultrarunners are problem solvers. I spent the next 2 weeks preparing my drop bags, 10 to be exact, some of them being transported to multiple aid stations and sleep stations, which requires serious planning. How much fuel and what gear to put where. When will I sleep? What happens when I miscalculate? Miscalculations are a given, so plan for every possible eventuality. There are lots of spreadsheets in my immediate future. I plan out everything as it relates to nutrition, hydration and gear. I decided on a sleep strategy as well, but I will roll with the punches as needed. In a perfect world, I will run/walk the first 48 hours without sleep, allowing only for microsleeps of 5 minutes or so (I tested it crewing/pacing at Badwater and it works!), before trying to get about 2 hours of rest after 48 hours and see what happens. I have a distance and time goal as well, but that is truly secondary. Crossing the finish line one race at a time is my goal.
My training started off great. I had some great runs during the first 3 months of training followed by some injury woes and some travel resulting in less than optimal training. However, I’d like to think that I put in the work and I do have 10 years of consistent training and 100+ ultra finishes under my belt, so surely that counts for something, right? I've learned that it's ok to be afraid or uncertain, but that's what makes running any ultra so exciting, the absolute and total uncertainty of what the day or days will bring.
See you at the start line.