Ask An Ultrarunner #2

Time for the second installment of the Ask An Ultrarunner synchroblog series leading up to the 2010 Western States 100 on June 26.  Thanks to everybody who has submitted questions.  We’ve decided to answer three questions from BK, Joe Lee, and GG to PHS Runner who will each get a t-shirt for their contributions.

Taped Toes

BK asks: “How do you take care of your feet in a 100 mile race? Tape, powder, lube, socks, blister care or not, water crossings (sock/shoe changes or not). Toe paint?”

As you know, blisters are a very common problem at 100s, but they aren’t game stoppers.  They’re just flesh wounds.  That said, even minor problems can wreak havoc on your resolve so they should be taken seriously.  I generally don’t have issues with my feet at shorter distances (100km or less), but after about 10 or 12 hours I start to have problems.  I’ve tried powders, lubes, many different socks and shoes, and I run in a full size larger shoe than I did ten years ago.  What we resorted to doing beginning in 2002, after finishing AT in 2000 and WS in 2001 with hamburger feet, is taping all ten toes and the balls of each foot.  It is a pain in the butt as it takes you about 30-45 minutes the night before the race.  I learned of the technique from the Badwater website.  They see all kinds of foot problems at that race and there is a lot of useful information on their website.  I wish I didn’t have to tape, but it allows me to get through a 100 with little or no blister problems.  You gotta find what works for you.  John Vonhof wrote a great book, Fixing Your Feet.

Remember a couple of years ago when I experimented and tried going without the tape at Javelina Jundred?  Below is the video you shot.  I still finished but remember this big beautiful toe blister I got?  The commentary is the best part of the video so make sure the volume is up.

As for shoes and sock changes during the race.  I don’t want to see my feet until the finish so I don’t even take my shoes off.  Also, the tape makes it kinda hard to change socks, so I’d rather not even touch them until the finish.  My feet get wet in the high country and crossing the river, but they dry out soon enough.

Color Choices - thanks Sarah!

While taping, lube or powder, and whether to change shoes and socks during the race are important decisions to be made, the more interesting decision to make is what color nail polish to paint our toenails.  Thanks to my friend Sarah Spelt of Pacific Coast Trail Runs fame, who is big into nail polish, we have the following to choose from this June:

  1. Espresso Your Style!
  2. Decades of Shades
  3. My Private Jet
  4. “Sheer” Your Toys!
  5. Russian Navy
  6. Yoga-ta Get This Blue
  7. Play ‘Til Midnight

Which one should we use?

Joe Lee asks: “I’m currently training for WS100 2010. I’m kind of weird about the whole pacers and crew thing because I prefer to run alone and I don’t have much use for a crew. I kind of want WS to be virgin territory for my first attempt at it so I’m not planning on training there. I guess my question is: How much time am I going to sacrifice by taking this meathead approach? Is it easy to get lost on this course?”

Meathead, err Joe, lots of topics loaded into your question.  First, crew.  No doubt WS has the best aid/support of any 100.  You can easily get all you need from the aid stations, sans Pork n Beans and flashlights, but you can put those in a couple of drop bags and get them yourself during the race (assuming you put the drop bags in the exact location you need them}.   You can even get help from podiatrists on the course.   Sure, it’s possible to do it alone and many have run very successful races completely alone, but having a crew is much more than just getting your own special food or lights whenever you need them.  It can be a shared experience.  This is a big day.  Don’t you have people that would enjoy sharing this experience with you?  You likely won’t have that many chances to run this race.  If you have family or friends who care about you, while it can be a very tiring and difficult day for them, it can be as much fun for them to crew and/or pace as it is for you to run.  Unless, of course, you’re a complete horse’s rear-end and you aren’t any fun to be around during the race… If your crew wants some input on what they might do, have them read my wife Laurie’s crewing post she wrote before last year’s race.

Monkeyboy and Crew at Michigan Bluff 2009

Monkeyboy and Crew at Michigan Bluff 2009

Second, pacers.  You can run WS without a pacer. You could also run the race without using the aid stations, but why?  Are you trying to prove something?  Think you’re as tough as Jasper or Kulak?  If you do go it alone, it is even more important that you take care of yourself.  Don’t get all dehydrated and bonked and end up being a burden to the race.  Don’t leave the trail to relieve yourself and fall down into a ravine where nobody can see or hear you.  The race will have to come look for you.   While the use of pacers has evolved to become a competitive aid, the original use of a pacer was for the safety of the runner.  For more, see my post on pacers that I wrote last year.

Finally, getting lost.  WS is marked very well, but there are many places to get off course.  Spending time on the course would help and I would encourage you to take advantage of the Memorial Day Training Runs (note there is no longer a “camp,” just three training runs), but it won’t ensure you won’t get lost on race day.  I have a friend who ran Volcano Canyon at least three or four times before the race and still ended up heading down towards the American River on race day.  Yep, he had a brain cramp and followed yellow and blue ribbons (WS is marked with yellow ribbons) and got lost for about 45 minutes.  Having a pacer won’t guarantee you won’t get lost either.  Keep your head together throughout the race.  Pay attention at intersections.  Know the general flow of each section – should you be going up or down or flat on this section?  Keep in mind that WS is a very well maintained and traveled course by runners and horses (in some places the horse race course differs from the running race course) so if you find yourself bushwhacking through manzanita, chances are you are off course.  Don’t just keep heading in the wrong direction.  Stop and think about where you are and wait for someone to come from behind or go back to the last ribbon if you need to.  Staying on course is just one of the many variables you must deal with.

So, will you lose time with your Meathead approach?  Probably.  Will it matter?  It could.

GG to PHS Runner asks: “Do you think that riding a bicycle, in addition to downhill/heat training would be beneficial? I was thinking about doing a 100mi mountain bike race a few weeks after WS, and that the dual training might be beneficial. Of course, I don’t want to break my ribs or a pinky or something like that, where it might hinder my running. But then again, I can ride a bike without falling down repeatedly- I mean, who can’t ride a bike without falling, know what I mean?  Any suggestions you have would be appreciated.”

My First Mtn Bike Race

GG to PHS Runner, I think riding a 100 mile mtn bike race after WS is a great idea.  Where did you come up with that?  I’m doing that exact thing.  WS on June 26 and then Cascade Creampuff on July 11.  Since I just started riding a mtn bike this year, I really have no credentials to answer the question, but I’ll give you my thoughts anyway since I think I know who you are and why you’re asking this.  I didn’t fall off the turnip truck yesterday, White Trash.

My primary focus is WS, and I believe that in general the more miles I run in training the better I’ll run on race day.  No doubt that volume is key for me to run a “fast” WS.  Are 100 mile weeks better than 50?  How about 150?  If I could, I’d run 120-140 miles a week for 8 weeks.

But, after 32 years of running and having a 46 year old body, I can’t run that much without seriously increasing the risk of getting hurt.  I’ve been hurt two out of the last four years right before WS.  In 2006, despite throwing everything at it, I couldn’t rehab my anterior tibialis injury quickly enough and had to watch the runners leave Squaw without me.  I never want to do that again.  Last year I got hurt in April as you are very well aware of since you were on the run from Dusty Corners to Michigan Bluff when it happened.  I was able to rehab that injury in time but I showed up in Squaw not as fit as I could have been.  When I was running in the pool and exercising on those stupid indoor machines, I thought long and hard about getting a bike.  Not only so I would have a much more enjoyable means to cross train, but perhaps to also offload some of the training volume from running to biking.  I think in theory it is a good thing and I know a few others who have done the same with good results.

Estim/TENS on Injured Ribs

E-stim/TENS on my Injured Ribs

As for your subtle questions about me getting hurt, yes, it is true that I’ve had a few crashes in the last few months and have incurred some traumatic injuries, including an injured pinky and some ribs.  And, yes, it has affected my running a little.   But, I figured I’d approach learning to mtn bike like I approached learning to telemark ski – point ’em down and watch ’em buck.  White Trash, if you want to win the Western Pickle Puff you are going to have to run your best WS ever.  It’s pretty simple for you since all you need to do is just run instead of walk from Green Gate to Placer High School and you’ll cut an hour off your time.  I wish you the best in your training for both races.  Oh, and thanks for the question.

Check out what kind of answers my fellow synchrobloggers have for these questions:


  1. LB,
    Like a moth to the flame, you have lured me out of my anonymous posting as GG to PHS Runner to accept my T-shirt, which I shall wear with pride! And although no one asked, here’s my thought about foot care. For the first time ever, I dispensed with the tape and just slathered sportslick all over my feet this last weekend, and only got one blister on a toe that was easily pierced with briar. Granted, I only did a fun run, but I’m giving some serious thought to experimenting with all lube at the Peace Run or other long pre-WS runs.

    And living where I do, it would be nice if a lady gave me some nail polish. Recently I bought some “Mango” at a grocery store, with a bunch of other stuff to obscure the purchase, and the cashier looked right at me and said “is this for you?” , and I was like “No, that’s preposterous!” I mean, I have a reputation to uphold around here- I’m kind of an important person. Oh, and the Mango nails raised eyebrows at the top of Rat Jaw- “Dude, what’s up with your toenails?” , “Uh, it’s a Oregon thing.”

    And as for the race of my life at WS2010- count on it Baby!
    White Trash

  2. Thanks for the great response to my question. I’ll definitely put some thought and consideration to the points you mentioned. Not even sure who Jasper and Kulak are but if they are as tough as the dude in the blister video then they are way tougher then me.

    Looking forward to seeing you and all the other Oregon runners at Squaw in a few short months.

    • @Meathead, Jasper finished 2nd at Wasatch and 4th at WS without pacers or crew. Kulak has done a bunch of stuff, for instance, he finished 3rd at WS in 2005 without pacer or crew. However, better than that, he holds the record for the Grand Slam. Jurek tried to beat him a year after Kulak set the record but got sleepy at Lamb’s and it was game over. Nobody has been within two hours since.

  3. Dear Ultrarunner

    It’s Western States training season again. That means glimpses of my husband are becoming as rare as cougars sightings. Entire weekends are consumed with training runs. And when he isn’t running, he’s sleeping on the couch instead of pulling his weight around the house. When he’s awake, he pours over stats from previous years, reads countless running blogs, and talks incessantly about training and race strategies until my eyes go crossed. While I can appreciate his passion for the race, I have grown to resent how much it impacts our lives. What should I do?

    Western States Widow

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