This past week, I made the decision that I was going to break the mental barrier of a 20 mile day. As most of you know, I’m preparing for my first Spartan Ultra which is a 50K (31 miles) with 60 obstacles. I’m currently 5 months out from the race and so far I’ve had 4 hour trail runs and 15 mile runs but the number 20 hasn’t been hit in roughly 5 years. I knew physically I could do it but haven’t done it as of yet so I needed to check that box. I made the decision to do the run in the middle of the week only to find out that the upcoming weekend was going to be the coldest weekend of the year (so far in 2021). With -5 degrees Fahrenheit, I was in for a treat and this article outlines how I prepped from clothing, nutrition, to recovery.
Since the weather was dangerous, I made the decision to break up the 20 miles into two sessions (13 and 7 miles). I typically do my long runs in the mountains but because I was focused on distance and factoring in weather, I created a 13 mile loop around the city of Denver. My thought behind this was that I didn’t want to be far from home and I didn’t want to wait for the car to warm back up upon returning (safety first). I liked the idea of a loop around the city because it gave me the option to cut the run short in case I needed which I ended up needing (we’ll cover that in a bit).
From a nutrition standpoint, I had my preworkout oatmeal 2 hours before the run. This provided me roughly 600 calories, 70 grams of carbs, 37 grams of protein, and 20 grams of fat. I took this down with 32 oz. of water with a scoop of Nuun hydration (electrolytes) and 1 cup of coffee. One thing I’d like to note is I consume my liquids way before the run because I don’t want to end up needing to go to the bathroom. I always allow at least an hour from my last drink before I start running. This could vary from person to person but I found that an hour is a good base line.
When it came to clothes, I didn’t play around as I give my respects to mother nature. I figured listing out the items with links for people to see would be easiest.
There were only two things I was worried about for this run; my eye lids freezing shut and breathing in too much cold air. For my eyes, I brought my Oakley sunglasses to block off any wind and minimize ice forming on my eye lashes. They were quickly put away as they immediately fogged a 1/4 mile in (lesson learned). I took the sunglasses off and put them into my front pocket of my Nathan running vest and continued the run. I made a point to continuously blink to ensure if any ice was forming that it would quickly brush off.
If there was one thing that made the run difficult, it was the breathing. I had this tight mask over my entire head but knew I wouldn’t last long if I took it off because of how cold the air was. I took a slow pace approach and tried to focus only on nasal breathing but didn’t help much. From there, I said “fuck it” and played the cards I was dealt. Around mile 3, I was getting really warm and felt pretty great. My core temperature was up and the air was crisp. Ice was forming around my eyebrows and eye lashes but I didn’t care, I was having a great time.
Around mile 7, I started to notice that breathing was getting more difficult than normal and if I wanted to complete 20 miles for the day, I would need to slow down the heart. With respect to nature and my body, I decided to cut the run short 3 miles to finish my first run with 10 miles in -5 degrees.
I came home and immediately got out of my soaked clothes and headed to the shower. The ice that formed around my face immediately melted and the runner’s high was kicking in. For food, I took down a smoothie, apple, pumpkin seeds, RX-Bar, and a croissant. This brought me to around 1,900 calories for the day and it was only 10:30 AM.
I gave myself a 4 hour break where I simply relaxed and took down another liter of water with electrolytes. You might be thinking to yourself, “Wait, didn’t you drink anything during the run” and the answer is I tried. I got a couple of sips 30 minutes into the run but everything froze shortly after. Oh well…
The Second Run:
After coming back to life, I was ready to knock out the second half of my 20 mile day indoors (treadmill). I calculated that I could probably finish this in about 90 minutes so decided to watch a movie. I grabbed my iPad and downloaded the documentary “The Standard” which is about the GoRuck challenge. I couldn’t have watched a better movie to distract me from the muscle aches and thoughts that kept coming into my head of “Why am I doing this?” I could feel my ankles and knees getting achy but not to the point where I needed to stop. I knew that a little bit of pain was OK as we’re pushing the limits today. Roughly 90 minutes later, I completed the back half and executed on my goal of running 20 miles in a day.
After the second session, I immediately went into the tub and filled it with hot water and epsom salt. Not only were my legs achy but my lower back was pulsing. I stayed in the bath for 25 minutes as I took down more water and let the hot water do its magic.
Looking back on the day, I’m pretty happy with the results. Although I had to cut the 1st run short by 3 miles, I’m still stoked because I was running in -5 degrees for 1 hour and 45 minutes. That showed me how long I could last in those types of conditions. I also broke the mental barrier of running 20 miles in a day. From here, I can now slowly increase the volume while incorporating these types of days in the future. My goal is do knock out a 25 mile day in March and then a 30 mile day in April. From there, I will incorporate a 30 mile day once a month leading up the race.
After 3 weeks of intense training and finishing it with a 20 mile day, I decided to take at least 2 full days away from running and lifting. Not only did I earn the time off but absolutely needed it.
Why am I doing this?
I don’t want to just get by in the Spartan Ultra but excel. I’m 32 years old and I feel healthier than I ever have in my entire life. I also look at this period of my life from a different perspective and that is with my future kids. I don’t have kids today but I know they’re coming and I can’t wait to tell them the stories of these workouts. This isn’t just about pushing myself and bettering myself but also laying the land for the next generation to say…
“Yes I can!”