Ask An Ultrarunner #1

Time for a little WS synchroblogging fun again.  This year, AJW (five straight WS top ten finishes, six silver buckles), Hal Koerner (five WS finishes, two cougars), and Meghan Arbogast (three top ten WS finishes) have agreed to join me (six WS finishes, two top ten) on a series of blog posts leading up to the 2010 WS race.  Each of us is in the race this year so we’re thinking about the race once or twice an hour 🙂  We’re each going to answer the same questions submitted by readers, and like last year’s synchroblog, we won’t read the other posts until they are published.  Send your questions to me via email or comment on any of our posts.  If we use your question you’ll get a Conduct The Juices shirt.  Ask about WS specifically, ultrarunning generally, or if you have a personal issue you might want some help with, go ahead and ask and we’ll see what happens.  Here are the first two questions.  Enjoy.

Mr CPK asks: “I know a friend who is a very good marathon runner but ended up in the hospital after his first WS due to rhabdomyolysis.  I’m running my first WS this year and wondering what I need to do to keep this from happening to me?”

Mr CPK, I have had several friends also end up in the hospital for rhabdo (and acute renal failure).  They were/are very good runners so it’s obvious that because you’ve run fast on the roads or shorter ultras it doesn’t imply that you’re automatically going to be able to race with the big boys and girls at WS and come out unscathed.  It takes some work ahead of time and you gotta be smart on race day, but it is very possible for a first-timer to be Haggin Cup worthy.  The simple answer to your question is to train your quads to handle the downhills, get heat-trained, stay hydrated, keep your sodium levels up, and do not run beyond your level of training. How hard can that be?  For most, not that hard, for some, really hard.

Quads Ready for Cal St.

Quads That Are Ready for Cal St (WS 2005)

Simply, rhabdo occurs when you’ve destroyed your muscles and the contents start leaking into the bloodstream (myoglobin).  While this could theoretically happen with any skeletal muscles, the obvious and the most vulnerable at WS and other 100 milers are the quads.  The eccentric contractions (the muscle is elongating while flexing, sometimes referred to as the “negatives”) from all the downhills is often the culprit for rhabdo.

Training is obviously important to prevent the muscles from being destroyed.  23,000′ of downhill is a good amount and it should be taken seriously.  If you can’t get into the WS canyons, find long 3-5 mile downhills and do them many times.  In Oregon we go to Rooster Rock where we’ll often do a 22 mile run with 9000′ of downhill (and the same amount of uphill).  This absolutely destroys my quads.  I did this just a week ago and my quads were sore to the touch for about 5 days.  I’ll continue to do long runs with as many as 12,000′ of downhill, with my last little quad stimulation about 14 days before the race.  You could also try to do eccentric weight training (lunges, squats, the lowering of leg extensions, etc) but I would be scared to start WS if I had only done weights for my quad training.  Oh, another thing to keep in mind is if you get injured before the race and your highly conditioned quads become detrained.  If you get your quads in great shape by April but then are injured in May, make sure you either get the quads retrained or adjust your goal on race day to reflect your current preparedness.

Staying hydrated and keeping your electrolytes balanced is also important on race day, and is much easier if you’re heat-trained.  Even the best trained runners will have some level of necrosis in the quads.  The myoglobin that is released into your bloodstream is big and may plug up your kidneys which can lead to acute renal failure.  That is not something any of us want to experience.  Keeping hydrated and urinating can help flush that bad stuff out and keep the kidneys from plugging up.  But the bottom line is don’t run the downhills harder than you are trained.  Oh yeah, and stay away from the vitamin-I.  If your quads are killing you it’s probably because they have been killed.  Don’t mask that pain.  Finally, while I hate to write this because I don’t think anybody should have this in their head, if you know you are doing serious damage don’t forget that dropping out and coming back another year more prepared is an option.  AJW may not respect you but your family and the race organizers might appreciate it.

If you want a more medically sophisticated explanation, Dr Lisa Bliss, a former WS Medical advisor wrote about rhabdo in 2007.

Chubster asks: “I run a bunch of ultras, 100 milers are my favorite.  I am usually in the top five, top ten if it is super competitive.  Even with all the training, I have elevated love handles.  I don’t mean a little elevated, I’m talking waaay higher.  What can I do?”

126-pound SLF

126-pound SLF

Chubster, if you’re that good and you’re asking this question you must have self-esteem issues, too.  You’re probably on the edge of complete meltdown, but I’m not a psychiatrist so I don’t think I can help you with that.  I will offer you a suggestion regarding your fat: Quit drinking so damn much beer.  How many beers are you drinking each night?  Two, Three, Six or more?  Stop it, you besotted narcissist.

While each winter I seem to store a few extra pounds, so far the weight hasn’t been that big a deal for me at WS.  Sure, running uphills and dissipating heat is hampered, but we need some fat to mobilize as fuel.  I’ve been between 141 and 152 on race day since 2001.  Interestingly, I ran my slowest time when I weighed 141.  If you really think you’re fatter than you should be, you could try the SLF weight loss method:

  1. Drink water straight out of streams and get giardia.  If you see a dead bear drink the closest water, preferably below the carcass.  This will increase your chances of getting giardia.  Once you’ve got enough of the creatures in your body, while the flatulence may cause embarrassment at work, you’ll lose weight like never before.  Don’t go to the doctor until your love handles have receded because the little guys will be killed soon after you begin taking the prescribed antibiotics and you really don’t want to do this twice.
  2. Have a double hernia surgery soon.  You could probably have a couple of other surgeries with the same result (castration, lobotomy, etc).
  3. Drink red wine instead of beer.  Not only will you consume fewer calories, but this might improve your self-image as wine drinkers are more sophisticated than beer drinkers.

If you do all three of those things, within a couple of months you’ll be as light as SLF (125 pounds soaking wet).

See how my other synchrobloggers answered these questions:


  1. 3 for 4…not bad. Oddly, the enthusiastic rookies were two fer two. Perhaps A Jizzle Wizzle was too concerned with the correlation between his f-cup ta’s and his striking resemblance to the cherubic runner in the second question to wake his son up to help him with his synchroblog post.

  2. Great info on rhabdo and boobs. The question I have for you guys is 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???

    • @BK, Did I talk about boobs? Foot care would be a great question and we’d get a range of responses. Not sure if the Jiz or the cougar collector are comfortable enough with their manhood to paint their toenails. We’ll see.

  3. I’m going to use this down hill training for Tahoe 100 this year. It will be my first solid mountain 100 and from what I’ve heard there are quite a few downhills to worry about. I’m excited this year.. There is a good chance I’ll be helping out No Hands Bridge aid this year… can’t wait to see you guys run through.


  4. So, what the heck should I do now that I don’t have 9,000 feet of downhill at my dispose? Anywhere in a 7 hr drive area? And if I try to do it on a shorter hill that many more times, wouldn’t my recovery getting back u every time would neglect the return of the down miles/time? I am actually serious as I am facing this dilemma. In 2004 I trained for my first WS with hard weight training – the only downhill I had done was a WS training camp. I had suffered no fried quads. Granted, I won’t claim I had a perfect race, and next year Gorge runs made the training pay off, but still, no bad quads and pretty good race for a new-yorker. Suggestions, Mr. Train hard?

  5. Having changed into my velvet smoking jacket and pigskin slippers waiting for my lovely wife to serve me dinner, I thought I’d catch up on the running community having had no time earlier today. Strategic planning with the symphony filled my morning, followed by golf at the Club left me racing home in the Merc to relax.

    I had just walked into my office and sat down to my computer and having opened a bottle of some precocious little French Burgundy, actually a 2001 Beaune to be more specific, when I almost dropped my Riedel crystal goblet on my white linen trousers. Imagine my shock. Here was Craig cavalierly explaining my weight loss program for 2009. My dear boy, I thought we were going to keep it amongst ourselves. Anyway, dear readers, it is true. All except for point number three. I’m simply not sure where he gets that conclusion.

    • @SLF, I don’t remember agreeing to any vow of silence on your drastic weight loss last year. Everybody noticed, SLF. You know I’m just jealous cause you actually won a race outright in 2009 – Diablo 50 with a stacked field including Skaden, Graham, and Bev! As my friend White Trash has reminded me, it’s been a couple years since I won a race.

      As for my conclusion on #3, I guess I’m just connecting all the dots. House with an elevator, Shakespeare connections, wine cellar as big as our new home addition, …

      Bottom line is I wanna be like you with the exception of your last lap on the track at WS. Now that was not very sophisticated.

  6. Dear ask-an-ultramarathoner,

    I’m a runner in my late thirties, returning to ultras after missing a year due to a torn calf and related injuries. I’m building up mileage for my 2nd hundred, this September, near a 2-bit Southern Oregon town known for cougar sightings and men in tights. My question has to do core stability. Why does my “crew” have, at most, 2 or 3 pictures of me running, while our pc’s hard drive is full of photos of young, buff, shirtless, male ultra-runners with shaggy hair, dreamy eyes, and more abs muscles than I can count? Should I be doing some sit-ups or something?

    Thanks in advance


  7. Mr. CPK
    I had a very similar experience as your friend, and I’m glad I caught you. You and I have been beating these yahoos ever since high school and this is their ultimate revenge. Our bodies are different. What did you think the first time you tried running 9 min/mile pace? “This is just freaking wrong!” is what you thought, and you would be right, it is. You and I are not meant to run at that pace. It’s like trying to take a Ferrari out for a 24 hr. slow drive through the country. Our bodies recruit an entirely different set of muscles than those guys. Our “painfully slow muscles” (if you will) have never been properly developed and were never meant to be used. Ever notice how some injuries that hurt when you go slow seem to vanish when you speed up? same concept.
    Listen to your gut and just go man, and for god’s sake stay away from this blog, it’s like a Taliban recruiting tool for slowness and wrecking fast runners such as you. I bought into the whole thing and it nearly killed me.
    And no, your aren’t crazy for considering wearing spikes. I’d go with the longer dirt ones vs. the all weather track ones.
    Your welcome.

  8. Dear ask a ultramarathoner

    I’m currently training for WS100 2010. I’m kind of wierd 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 planing 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?

    I guess I wasn’t totally honest about the crew thing because I have some family that wants to follow me around while they have a big party.

    • @Joe Lee, Apparently you hit a nerve with E-Less about crews…

      I think these are good questions and in short, yes, it is a meathead move to go without a pacer. If you’re really tough you could bypass the aid stations too. As for getting lost, well, of course you can get lost – whether you train on the course or not. One of my friends, who will remain nameless, trained on the course many days and come race day got lost for 45 minutes!

      Perhaps we’ll have the whole panel tackle this one.

  9. Mr. Lee, Mr. Lee – it isn’t any party for the crew….it is easier to run the race then to crew in my opinion. I have been involved with WS in one way or the other for the past 30 years (actually 29-this makes 30). Crewing isn’t easy.

    You can run without a pacer; however, if you do get lost don’t go blaming the race director and course markings – you aren’t related to Mr. Reidel are you?

    You can also tell your pacer that you want them several yards ahead or behind you and then you can feel like you are out there as a virgin. Hmmmm, I won’t go there?!?!?

  10. The rules let you have a pacer. If you choose to go without one that’s your deal. Personally, I go with one from the bottom of Bath Rd to the Finish. I’ve run races without pacers as well (my 2 wins at VT for example) and I happen to prefer a pacer. But, we’re all different. Carpenter scorched the CR at LT without one in 2004 and Jasper has been 2nd at WF and top-5 at WS without one. So, the choice is yours.


  11. @E-Less,

    I think you misunderstood me. My family IS planning on having a party while following me on the course. My brother has a limousine that he plans on hauling my “crew” around in to the accessable points along the course. I’m sure it won’t be easy for them but it will be fun.

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