Rings Of Fire: Post WS100 Training Questions

This post deals with training issues, gear issues, and comes from a guy who doesn't run that much anymore. So, now's a really good time to delete, because I'm going to ask some pointed questions about a lot of things.

There has been a lot of soul-searching and what-ifs, along with 'whistling past the graveyard' post-Western States 100 on the business of near-fatalities caused by dehydration, and spectacular blister pyrotechnics.

I did WS in 93, and spent a good 90min plus at Michigan Bluff. On the way up, I had a pounding in my kidneys, my ears were ringing, my quads had locked up, and people were passing me as fast as they could, completely ignoring my doubled-over ass. I was dehydrating, in deep shit. I got past it, but it added a good 3hrs to my race...


Why? Because that day I rolled out with a rehydration scenario I hadn't trained with. I didn't know it cold.


I remember a Facebook post made, or at least answered to, when heat was discussed. Specifically, how it hadn't been hot, and was it going to be hot. Somebody else replied: "bring it on".

We all know what happened the last time that phrase was uttered. I read that and thought "Mr Murphy is going to rip you a new asshole, and not stop until he comes out your eyes."

I saw the results the finish line. Let's do some forensic probing here.


Its a matter of honor for the canyons to be nice and hot on Race Day. They run south by southwest; perfect parabolic heating convection ovens. Always. Doesn't really matter what the high country is doing—besides, that's just foreplay for the Main Act.

Some of you may come from places where there was no heat that season. All the more reason to pay real close attention to the next part of the show.


Here's a twofer: Are you getting enough electrolytes? Are you carrying a bladder pack?

I'm going to be heretical here. If you answered yes to both, you've just compounded your problems.

There is NO WAY that you can suck the amount of fluids you need thru a straw. Ever. Then you get to wrassle the thing off your back, fill it, be a freight-hauler to the next destination, have this thing trap heat, slowing down the cooling process, and you also have a Petri dish on your back.

I dare you to do a chug contest vs somebody with 28oz hand-bottles. Post the video to YouTube.

Back to electrolytes. If you ain't gittin' them, then your kidneys will shut down. If you aren't getting your nutrients in a liquid form, you are asking your body to do several things at once. Optimize your nutrients by pounding them down in liquid form. Optimize electrolytes so fluids do what they're supposed to—instead of sloshing in your gut, avoiding your kidneys, giving you brown whiz, and a probable trip to the CCU.


Are the blisters expected? Like perhaps you aren't getting your money's worth?

People! Foot issues are critical, and should be settled and done with well before race day.

Sound harsh? I was at Kamp n0Rm back in '92 or so when I met an old-school, chill tough guy—no brag or bullshit, just calm authority. He told me that with proper training, blisters wouldn't happen. His comments informed my training for the rest of my short ultra career.

The whole shoe-foot-blister thing has been pervasive at WS for so long, and it's making me wonder what people are doing to train. All blisters mean to me is that they are not doing enough miles, in the right sox, right shoes, and that the training is not building toughness.

For the record, I trained in Thorlos. Yes, cotton poly. Come race day, it was a liberal, and I mean 'trowelled-on liberal', application of Cramer Skin Lube on the feet. Skin-Lube, for those who may not have used it, is Vaseline with a serious attitude. A very high melt-point. Pitch the sox after the race.

I had problems of my own, but guess what, none of the wake-boarding, geyser-esque monster blisters I've read about.


Do you wear a hat? Not a visor, but a hat?

Yes, Hal Koerner doesn't wear a hat, he wears a visor.

So fucking what.

I love Hal, been following his career from behind my camera for the last five years.

But guess what, Average Ultra Runner—you don't have Hal's talent or kidneys. And 90% of you are out there long after he is. Some of you are into your second sunrise, and the attendant re-dehydration.

Classic example: WS '93. I pass Delmar Fralick who's having a very bad day at Dusty Corners. No Hat, but his Visor is snappy. Only problem—Delmar is in a chair, wet bandana on his head, trying to cool off.

I look at him and said "Damn, Delmar, you know it gets hot down here, why aren't you wearing a hat? "

He wanted to look like Twiet. Guess what? He didn't have Twiet's kidneys, metabolism, and a host of intangibles that made Twiet's accomplishments amazing.


A hat, or a cap at least, protects the 7% of your body mass that is in direct contact with Mr Sun. A hat, or cap with any kind of shade creates a dead-air space insulation between you and sunstroke. The base of the neck is where it needs protection. Once I figured that out, my life became a lot happier.

I mentioned the bladder-pack. You know, the heat sink on your back.

You are a racer now, not a freight-hauler. Every ounce carried turns into tons by the finish line. Bouncy-bouncy adds up to lost time and energy spent dragging this training device from point to point.

A fanny pack is arguably a faster bottle swap, you carry less dead weight, and it lets your back wick off heat and moisture.

Are you wearing synthetics? Are you wearing tight-fitting synthetics?

Again, heat transfer to you is more profound if the clothing is tighter, darker and skimpier. You are being pounded by heat, UV, IR and merciless light.

Look at traditional Berbers, who most closely approximate Europeans. They're covered up, insulated to a large degree from sun and heat. No, I don't count Eritreans, Somalis, Australian aboriginals in this mix. Their skin, hair, noses have all adapted to ferocious sun and heat.

My suggestion for WS runners, is that cotton is still your best bet. Oh yes, WF & LT100 runners: hypothermia, lightning storms, epic downpours, and other typical mountain weather make very good arguments for poly-pro. But here, in a desert-like heat, Cotton is very, very good. Wicks away heat, perspiration, and furthermore, loses the stink when you wash it.


When I co-RD'd Baldy Peaks 50k with Andy Roth, I got to explain to people why I was a dick on the subject of hydration. Rhabdo is a bitch. It will kill you. I've met several people who nearly died, but didn't.


Do not presume the same for yourself. One of my very good friends, ex-100 training partner, Dave Turner is now an RN. He looks at dialysis patients on a daily basis. Dialysis is a harsh end to a carefree life, where suicide rates are generally higher than the general despairing populace.

If you fuck up, and you get yourself into rhabdo, and you are at a remote location, and perhaps is not caught in time, you might get to be a dialysis patient. Forever. Unless of course you die before being evacuated.


We live in markedly different times from when I entered the world of ultras as a dewy newbie twenty years ago. I came from the world of back-country travel, where 'self-insert' meant 'self-extract'. I learned the hard way what getting lost, and then un-lost really meant.

However, the society that currently produces runners is overwhelmingly urban, and suburban. Class and cultural notions of immediacy, consumption, accomplishment and involvement are stirred right into the mix. Unfortunately, a 100-mile race is not the time or place to hit RESET or UNDO. Its a done deal.

Nobody gets off on this one. Nature bats last, and will always get its due.


Listen up! This message is being sent by or on behalf of Mr Trail Safety. It is intended exclusively for the individual or entity to which it is addressed, excluding non-specific incarnations and bardo-state entities. It contains concepts that will challenge you. You may adjust. Insofar as as this communication may contain information that is proprietary, privileged or confidential or otherwise legally exempt from disclosure, it is certain to cause cerebral flatulence and conceptual infarctions among the simple-minded and comedy-challenged, perhaps even *You*.

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Here, have some salt.


Anonymous said…
Yes - wearing a visor during a 100 mile trail run was one of a couple mistakes that I made. But the visor still wears well today after coaching 10 years of high school XC with 16 athletes running division 1 college XC. My run this afternoon @ Red Rocks
will include the visor - ha !
Tiffany Guerra said…
Very interesting comments about the bladder vs. handhelds. I'd been planning on wearing a 2L bladder at the AC100 but now I'm considering my belt with 2 28 oz bottles, plus a hand-held in sections that will take longer... very helpful observations, thank you!

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