Monday, May 7, 2012

Hexenstieg Ultra 2012 After Action Review

This portion of the Hexenstieg 2012 race report is focused on after action type thoughts, ideas and issues.  I’m going to bounce around a bit, but want to share these thoughts.

Preparation – Was I prepared for the 200KM of the Hexenstieg?  This is a tough question to answer. My results in finishing indicate that I was in fact at least minimally physically ready.  I do however consider myself a very juvenile 100 miler having only completed two.  I know that I could have and will increase the number of endurance training events I perform.  I am going to continue to extend my shorter runs to a regular minimum of 13KM and tie in at least one four to six hour run per month.  Leading up to the Hexer I only got in two of these if you discount the 2012 Brocken Challenge and the Saaletal Marathons.  I am pleased with the training miles I’ve put in the bank over the past year or so.  I could not have completed the Hexer without them.

There are some wider lessons I’m studying when I compare the Hexer at 200KM and 4,400 meters of elevation change with the UTMB at 166KM and 10,000 meters of elevation change.  The Hexer allowed 48 hours for completion while the UTMB only grants 46.  UTMB check point cut off times were my undoing in 2011; albeit they were compressed because of the late start.  I’m thrilled to get another hundred miler in for the experience, but recognize that I must increase my pace all around in order to work in some sleep and rest periods for the UTMB in 2013.  I think I’ll work to complete one or two additional one hundred milers prior to attempting next year’s UTMB.

Diet and Fueling – I am still refining my running diet.  The week prior to the Hexer I specifically carbo loaded.  Doing so worked well.  During the event I used GU normal and Roctane gels,  a mix of various energy and snickers bars, and the fruits, crackers, and odd meal that were available over the trail.  I had packed tortillas spread with peanut butter and jelly, but did not eat them as I got extremely burned out on sweets.  I’ve got to experiment with some non-sweet food sources, perhaps salty potatoes.  I tried eating a packet of peanut butter and crackers.  I got them down with a bit of difficulty.  With a dry mouth and on the go they are tough to consume.  At about 100KM I was burned out on the energy bars and sweets I had with me and forced myself to choke down gels to keep energy and caffeine in my tank.  A week after the event I still don’t know if I can eat an energy bar or snickers without retching.  I found that my beverage selection worked well during the Hexer.  I used a combination of Gatorade and Hammer Perpetuem Caffé Latte.  I carried the Gatorade in my pack bladder and the Perpetuem in waist bottles.  I mixed up two bottles of Succeed’s Clip 2, but found it hard to get down.  I’m going to give it another go at the Grand Raid Dentelles Ventoux.  Caffeine played a critical role in my fueling strategy.  Its use is something I have to play with a bit.  I overdosed on caffeine at the ThueringenULTRA two years ago and have underdosed during other events.  Going into the Hexer I reduced my caffeine intake a week prior to the race.  Unlike the Brocken Challenge of 2012 I did not eliminate it from my diet the week prior, but cut down to a cup of coffee in the morning each day.  This seemed to work well going in to the Hexer.  I think that the key to caffeine use is gaining a specific understanding of its impact on your body and outlook.  During the Hexer I found that if I used a GU Roctane gel about ever 2.5 to three hours and sipped on the Perpetuem I gained a positive impact from it and could actually feel the waves of “well being” flowing from the caffeine’s use.  I mentioned the Succeed S!Caps I had with me in Part I of this report.  They are a great tool and with the exception of winter events I always carry a packet of them with me.

Gear – Like just about every other race I’ve participated in I carried way too much gear during the Hexer.  My Nathan HPL 579 pack which was discontinued by Nathan is a great, well fitting pack.  Its downside is that it affords the opportunity to carry way too much stuff.  I plan to work on cutting back what I’m carrying with me especially since I’ll likely be forced to go to a smaller pack when this one falls apart.  I followed Micha’s advice leading up the Hexer and started out with the UTMB packing list.  Given that aid stations were anywhere from 20 – 38KM apart during the Hexer I carried at least eight energy bars, eight servings of drink mix and other assorted foods.  At our first drop bag I dropped off the pair of long running tights I carried, the extra tee-shirt and watch cap.  I maintained my trekking poles, gloves, North Face jacket, gloves, sunglasses and first aid kit throughout the race.  I used all of these over various portions of the route and feel that they are a must particularly when running in the Harz or over similar terrain. 

Foot Care/Blister Management – Wow!  This is a tough one as I’m still feeling their impact.  I’m going to have to do some further experimentation on this topic.  I don’t think that the blisters I gained were a result of my shoes, North Face Single Tracks, as I had worn them during training, and the Saaletal Marathon.  I wore a pair of CEP compression socks for the first time during an actual event; had worn them a couple of times in training with no issues.  I do however think that the blisters I gained were caused by my socks.  Andrea Möhr recommended short socks with tube style compression sleeves.  I’ve used that combination before with a pair of compression tubes I made myself and will revert back to this practice for my next event.  Over the course of the Hexer I treated my feet with Moleskin on two occasions.  While working on the blisters I did not think that they were in a condition where I should lance, drain and bandage them.  This occurred much later.  I probably should have stopped and drained them when they had fully formed rather than continuing to run on them.  Tough call – blisters won’t kill you, but they sure can help your mind wonder to places you definitely should not go when running an endurance event.  If you are managing blisters or other irritating injuries you’ve got to make a decision on what to do with them.  For me it took a deliberate decision to recognize them, but set them aside as something that was not going to be a factor in any decisions to withdraw from the race.

Mental Anchors
– There is absolute truth in this statement:  “Mental fortitude is more important than physical endurance”.  If you’re going to run out beyond the marathon distance you need to recognize that; embrace it; meditate on it; fully comprehend it.  That is probably the greatest lesson I learned while running the Hexenstieg Ultra.  The other ultra events I’ve participated in to this point have not taken me to the limits of my mental fortitude.  Yes, they have tested my physical endurance, but the Hexer truly tested my mental fortitude.  I think keys to success here rest in making the decision; you’re either going to run the race, or not.  I found tricks in maintaining my forward movement by framing different legs of the event (OK, the next leg is 38KM – Let me break that down into bite sized junks and I can certainly do this!  When is the next aid station?  What terrain features are between us and its location?  Ten kilometers of climbing and then coasting downhill…).  George Sheehan’s thought rings true yet again, “It’s very hard in the beginning to understand that the whole idea is not to beat the other runners.  Eventually you learn that the competition is against the little voice inside you that wants you to quit.”

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