by Jeffrey Stern
Aug 29 17

Jumping Into An Ultramarathon

It's commonplace to see elite athletes change focus within their respective sports, from road cycling, to cyclocross and mountain biking or vice versa. A lot of the skill sets transfer and pedaling circles is just that, pedaling circles. Success is never guaranteed, but there are plenty of examples of athletes who’ve had success jumping from one type of bike to the next - Jesse Anthony and Todd Wells come to mind.

However, changing sports is a completely different ball game. Pro cyclist Mike Woods, formerly of Rally Cycling, is the most recent success story. Woods was once a promising middle-distance runner, excelling at the 1500 and 3000 meter races as a junior, before a series of recurring stress fractures ended his running career and launched him on a world class cycling trajectory.

Over the course of a lifetime, interests, skills and injuries can change, even dictate future athletic pursuits. However, most of these changes occur over years of fading out of one sport and into the next.

CYCLING TO RUNNING

Changing athletic paths in the middle of the season is something that's a pretty unique experience. I've had the privilege of pushing and testing my own perceived limits over the course of the last few months while recovering from a bike crash and jumping head first into training for my first ultramarathon.

The first half of 2017 was spent road racing around the state of California, building off a winter base and adding intervals to prime myself for some of the toughest amateur road races across the nation. An early summer crash sidelined the road racing season for the year and I was looking for a change of pace; I wanted something that could still push me and fulfill my competitive drive, but didn't involve the bike.

Turning to more hours spent pounding the pavement and trails instead of time in the saddle was a big change. I felt my body slowly start to adapt as I added more miles and developed a plan to complete a 50k. I knew I needed a target on the calendar to find deeper motivation and continue to train hard.

NEW CHALLENGE

I didn’t have to look any further than last year’s USA Track & Field 50km Trail Championships course, the Tamalpa Headlands 50k held just north of San Francisco in the stunning Marin Headlands and Golden Gate National Recreation Area. A non-championship race this year, the course features nearly 7,000-feet of climbing and is considered one of the most difficult courses at that distance anywhere. Brutally steep up and downhill terrain, with plenty of noteworthy footing, some scrambling, log jumping and particularly hot weather made for a difficult day Saturday.

With only two months to prepare, I ramped up my running from two days a week to nearly everyday and saw my mileage jump from 40, to 50, 60 and eventually a peak of 70 miles per week - more than I’d ever run in my life.

I knew it was a tall order to ask and that I needed help adapting to the stress and magnitude of the increased training workload on my body in such a quick time period. Having Amp Human Performance to lean on during my biggest weeks of training to help me build and maintain mileage numbers I’d never before put on body was a tremendous support. All while working on trail specific skills, hydration and nutrition during longer runs that professional mountain runner Joe Gray said is key, “Don't try anything that is new,” Gray told me the day before the race. “You don't want to surprise your stomach on a tough aerobic day such as a day where you plan to race an ultra!”

LISTEN TO YOUR BODY

I used many of my experiences from endurance mountain biking and road cycling to stick with what my body likes best; many bananas, Skratch Labs hydration, UnTapped nutrition, caffeine later in the race for an extra boost and ice from aid stations to keep my core temperature down.

Although my pacing became skewed due to a wrong turn early in the race, I stayed on top of my hydration and nutrition from the beginning knowing how vital it would be to feeling well in the last quarter of the race. I was able to rebound from a low point at mile 26 to finish strong and almost pull back into the top ten in a race that saw a 25% DNF rate.

With a double application of Amp Human Performance in the morning, I never experienced any muscle cramping despite temperatures pushing nearly ninety degrees during mid-day. Severe muscle soreness from the race’s most technical descent about two-thirds of the way through subsided and I actually passed a competitor on the day’s final climb, a 1,300-foot leg searing scramble up the slopes of Mount Tamalpais. My legs recovered so quickly, I was able to pound out the final four miles to the finish in relative ease, finishing 12th overall.

Although with less time and not necessarily an ideal approach, I was able to turn my cycling fitness into running prowess that turned me into a competitive ultramarathoner in a few short months. I’m no Anthony, Wells or Woods, but with sage advice applicable to all athletes, proper training and a little extra edge on my side I came out on top as a better all-around athlete, experiencing a new type of suffering and ready for the next athletic challenge whatever it may be.

Photos by David Silverander and Vanessa Hansen