It’s difficult to practice something when you only do it maybe two times a season. Sure I run hundreds of training runs in a year, and thousands in my lifetime so far, but a 100 mile race is categorically different than even the longest training runs I do. Over the past handful of years I have nearly always run 100 mile races in foreign countries, with lots of pressure and time zones to cross getting there. Mostly I have not fared well. There are a lot of reasons for this which I won’t dive into fine detail here. This past weekend I decided to do something a little different, to try and work on things during a 100 mile race where I was more concerned with the process and less so with the outcome. I found the perfect opportunity at Scout Mountain Ultras, a race expertly put on by Luke Nelson and crew up in Pocatello Idaho. For those who are not aware, this is an amazing mountain 100 miler, covering huge climbs, technical trail (and a solid amount of snow in this edition). I was also warned to be on the lookout for moose at the mile 35 aid station (spoiler, I didn’t get so lucky to see any). If I were you I’d put Scout Mountain on your shortlist for 2020. Here is what I learned:

Always pound cold brew at mile 80

Pacing: This element of 100 mile racing, in terms of race day strategy, is the absolute most critical, at least in my opinion. It feeds into all the other aspects of the run. And frankly, most of us (more often than not myself included) do not do a good job pacing in 100 mile trail races. It’s a very hard thing to do. Being realistic with what you should actually be doing in the first miles and hours of an all day and night run takes planning, understanding of the terrain and it’s demands, and most importantly it takes in the moment execution once the gun goes off and for the next 50+ miles there after. It’s so easy to make mistakes, running too fast or too hard, even for short periods of time in the early stages of a race only to pay it back with mafia style interest. For Scout Mountain I had a plan for what I thought I could realistically do. In the execution department I have to give myself a C+. I stuck to my guns part of the time, still allowing too many lapses in my judgement during the first half of the race. Overall though this aspect went better than my batting average. I was able to move up from around 7th at mile 20 to the front of the field by mile 72. I slowed down in the last 30 miles, but a lot of that came from hanging out too long in aid stations, waiting for scrambled eggs, and yes, also moving slower on both climbs and descents, but it was better than many 100s I’ve done.

Attitude: The energy felt at the start and through the first few aid stations of every ultra is palpable. People are hungry, excited, even frenzied. The first aid stop is chaotic, frantic, all the crews barking “What do you need, What do you need” while runners grab and dash out in under 20 seconds. Fast forward to aid stations in the latter stages of 100s and the scene is totally different, runners splayed out, sitting in chairs, bleary eyed and spent. If you had videos played back to back juxtaposing this phenomenon you’d never guess it was the same people running the same race, just at different stages. I am as guilty a perpetrator of this tendency as any. One of my goals for Scout was to come through every aid station calm, expending as little emotional energy as possible, positive, negative or otherwise. I have recognized in myself the immense toll it takes to be overly concerned with saving a few seconds 10 miles into a long race. Another thing I began to realize during Scout is how totally arbitrary it is to pass another runner or not in the early stages of the race. I certainly get a positive sort of mental feedback for passing other runners, but this self congratulatory  feeling, the extra chemicals swimming around in my brain, I think they are counterproductive to the ultimate goal which is finishing the full 100 mile distance as fast as possible. During Scout I worked on limiting the amount of energy and attention I gave towards these thoughts, and it made a significant difference.

Eating: I am not going to use the word nutrition. I don’t love the word in general, and especially not as it pertains to ultra marathon running. In many previous 100 mile races I have started out eating at an appropriate rate (200+ calories per hour), but within even the first 50k things start to slowly come unwound in this department.  At Scout I wanted to make sure my pace and intensity were slow and low, enough so that I could eat at this rate for the entire race, or at least as long as possible. I ate different things, lots of Spring Energy, chips, cookies, sandwiches, consistent soda after about 40 miles of racing. In the night almost all of the aid stations had some hot savory foods, and I happily partook in whatever they were serving up, with the best selection coming at Big Fir, mile 94, a mini breakfast burrito complete with eggs, bacon and legit crispy hash browns made to order.  Though my food intake was still not perfect and my gut was a little uneasy for much of the last 30 miles, I never stopped eating. I even came fairly close to the 200 calorie an hour number for the whole race, though I didn’t  keep any sort of journal on this during.

Muddy and done. Thanks Luke for such a freaking awesome day!

Being able to take these principles and to apply them to big stage races with hundreds of strong competitors, too much fanfare and energy, it won’t be easy at all. I know that the compulsion to get over hyped, too competitive too early, to lose track of food intake and pacing goals, these proclivities will be lurking around every corner when I arrive at the start line of UTMB later this summer. I am hoping that applying my experience and planning at Scout Mountain to UTMB will be effective in helping me to overcome all these pitfalls and to run the best race I can at the end of August in Chamonix.

The last thing I take from Scout has nothing to do with UTMB or any other future oriented goal. Scout was fun, for its own sake. I love running a long way, and even more I just love being in the mountains. This was a great course, in awesome mountains, getting to engage with new similarly minded people. I’d have run this race 100% for no other reason than because it was what I wanted to do. I might not have been optimally trained or prepared specifically for it, but with the right sort of plan it’s not that crazy to go out and run 100 miles.

For those interested, here is the Strava file. I used the Hoka Evo Mafates, and yet again was as happy with their performance on this diverse and difficult course as ever. I used poles for much of the run which I’d do again. I even find that when tired they are extremely helpful while trying to run as well as while hiking. I also have to thank my brother Eric for coming up from Provo, in the midst of being smashed from all sides in his PHD program in Psychology. He may have nearly failed out of school by taking 3 days to come crew and pace, hopefully it was worth it. And I realized after all of that I didn’t mention how I finished up, funny how easy it is to skip. I won, in a nearly but not quite course record time of 21:36:45. 

If you have any questions about this race, my planning, thinking, and prep going into the UTMB training block leave a comment below, I’ll be happy to respond here.