Lessons Learned and Insights/Observations In The Headlands 50-Mile Trail Run
1. Finish The Race—The main objective in participating an ultra trail run is to be able to finish the race. Yes, finish within the cut-off time of the race. In order to finish the race, you must be able to have a positive attitude and apply your race strategy. Aside from having a positive attitude and full resolution to finish the race, there is a need to be patient by not forcing your body on the early stages of the race. It is best to experience the run by trying to enjoy the scenery and looking how the other runners react to the different terrain of the route. If I need to finish the race with a lesser time, it is mandatory that I have to train harder and increase my mileage.
2. Training & Preparation—Two months before this ultra trail run, I shifted my training by running towards the “Brown Mountain” (BM) and tried to strengthen my legs and cope up with the challenges of mountain trail running. However, I found out that my “trips” to “BM” were not enough. There is a need to do more quality mountain repeats, not hill repeats! In my trips to “BM”, I tried to force myself by running on the incline portions of the trails and resting on the downhill and flat portions. With this thing repeated during my training, I became very conservative in my running effort during the race. I have made so many observations on the “tougher” runners on how they attack the inclines and the downhill portions of the course and I’ll try to mention them in my observations and things to improve in trail running.
3. Race Strategy—In my training, I adopted the race strategy of brisk walking on the uphill climbs and resuming my running on the flats and downhill portions. I was able to do this strictly during the race. However, after the race, I found out that I still have enough strength left. I have a feeling that I ran the course very conservatively and did not have the effort to force my body from my “comfort zone”—being afraid of having muscle cramps at the Km #40 point. On my hydration, I trained myself by bringing my Nathan Belt Bottle (on my small on the back) and a Nathan Hand-held on my left hand/palm. The bottle on my belt was filled with Gatorade while the hand-held bottle was filled with water. I had to drink water and Gatorade alternately every 2-3 kilometers and I could only finish one-half of the content of each bottle within a distance of 10-12 kilometers. During the race, I finally decided to bring only the Nathan Bottle on my belt and opted not to bring the hand-held bottle. I also decided to drink only Gatorade/Sports Drinks during the race. It worked fine with me to be having one bottle during the race and drinking only Sports Drinks since the drinks served during the race did not have any taste of a Sports Drinks. I am still wondering what is the brand of sports drinks that they served during the race. On the food, I took the regular GU Sports Gel every 10 kilometers, ate 3 bars of Nature Valley, lots of beef jerky cuts, and sliced melon & water melon dipped on salt which I picked up in every Aid Station! I took also 2 capsules of Salt Stick, one capsule in every loop! However, after the 1st loop, I ate one serving of oatmeal, fruits, SPAM slices, hard-boiled eggs, and drank one bottle of Gatorade.
4. Acclimatize and “Feel” The Route—My two (2) recon runs on the race course was a way to familiarize myself with the weather condition and the terrain of the area. I concentrated more on the beauty of the scenery and how to trace the route as seen and described on the map and on the route description. Running almost one loop of the course during my second recon run gave me confidence to be able to finish the course. And I decided to be conservative on the 1st loop during race day and try to run faster on the 2nd loop. But the results would show that I ran the 1st loop faster than the 2nd loop on race day! It shows that I was not able to determine on what parts of the route where I could be faster or slower. I just kept on following what was set in my mind—to brisk walk on the uphill and running comfortably on the declines. It was only on the last 8 miles where I was concerned about my pace and time to be able to reach the Finish Line. As to the acclimatization to the weather, I found out that after two weeks of stay in the area, I was able to bear the cold temperature even if the sky was overcast and the mountain environment was foggy. Three days after the race, I returned to Marin Headlands and ran another 20 miles and “attacked” the uphill climbs by continuously running on them, instead of brisk walking and running fast on the downhills, instead of comfortably running in a slow pace! At the uphill portions of Coastal Trail and downhill portions of Wolfe Ridge and Old Springs towards Tennessee Valley AS, I was able reduce my time by more than 6 minutes. I also ran on the uphill climbs of Marincello Trail and Bobcat Trail and with a faster pace on the downhill of these trails which resulted to a faster time on these portions by a cumulative time of 16 minutes!
If given another chance to run again in the Marin Headlands, I am sure I will be able to improve my time and have more confidence to attack the uphill and the downhill.
5. Specificity of Training—If you are preparing for a mountain trail run for a distance of 50 kilometers and above in the US, you have to train to a terrain that resembles to the course profile and race route condition. Comparing the course profiles of the Headlands 50-Mile Run and the 1st PAU 50K Run in Tanay, Rizal, there is a big difference aside from the fact that the weather is also different from one race to the other. Tanay’s elevation is higher but the inclines and declines are gradual than the Headlands 50-Mile Run. With this comparison, Tanay’s mountain trails would be a nice training ground for mountain trail runs in the US. I hope Tanay’s mountains would be able to resemble at least the last half of the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run.
6. Staying Longer at the Aid Station & Refueling After 1st Loop—Changing my socks, eating some food, and posing for my pictures after the 1st loop took at least 10-11 minutes of my time. If only I could make such stop for only 5 minutes, it would have shaved off some of my time. Shaving another 30-seconds in my stops in every Aid Station means another 4 minutes deducted from my time. Waiting in line at the Comfort Rooms for almost 2 times during the race also added few minutes of my time. I should have just “peed” more along the side of the road to shave off some seconds of my time. I will be smarter next time whenever I need to stay longer or not in every Aid Station.
7. Observations on the Conduct of Headlands 50-Mile Run
a) No Marshals Along The Route—There are no marshals positioned on the intersections of trails. You only see colored ribbons and small flags towards the direction of the route and along the route. If you don’t see any ribbons or small flags on the route, that means you are lost. You have to retrace your route and go to where you have last seen the ribbons. You only see volunteers on the Aid Stations.
b) Everything Is Simple—There are no race singlets as part of your registration fee. There is no loot bag after you finish the race. You simply receive your Finisher’s T-Shirt and the rest of the souvenirs and the items promised to be given to each of the runner will be sent to your home address through post mail. There are no “distractions” or “circus” mood at the Start/Finish Area. You are lucky if somebody along the trail will give applause or cheer at you. The only people who will cheer and greet you with “Good Job”, “Looking Good”, or “Good Morning/Good Afternoon” are the other runners in the race whom you meet, you pass, or those who are about to pass you.
c) Everybody is HONEST—Nobody cheats on the race course even if there are so many chances when a runner could easily make a “shortcut” as there is nobody who is checking the time or arrival of each runner in every Aid Station or critical point along the course. Each runner does not receive any band or string/straw necklace after he/she finishes a loop. There are no timing chips!
d) Runners Are Having Fun–Runners in ultramarathon races are friendly. They do not compete with the other runners but they compete with themselves and the course. Ultra runners help each other to survive and finish the course within the prescribed cut-off time. You can start a conversation to anybody and you can keep on pace with somebody, too. This is where friendship starts. Through constant conversation of any topic while running or brisk walking, you will find out that those steep inclines just looked to be easy to have been passed along the way. You feel relaxed while running in pace with somebody. Sometimes, you are fully motivated to increase your pace not to be able to be left behind by your running companion.
e) Top Runner Are Really “Tough”—I did not see these guys walking except when they approach the Aid Stations to refill their bottles or bladders in their Camelbaks. They simply run hard on the uphill and run fastest on the downhill. I’ve been trying to copy them and unfortunately, it resulted to a bad fall during my latest trail run to Mt Pinatubo. I need to practice some more towards the “Brown Mountain” soon and practice the technique I’ve seen with these “tough” guys in trail running!
It’s time to go back to the mountains again for more training! See you at “P2P 65K Run” in Ilocos Norte!