Quarantine Birthday Ultra


Every year since I started running, I’ve tried to line myself up for a spring and a fall race. With two small kids and a raging pandemic  that has proved impossible and likely, quite dangerous. Back in January, when the world was not quite off the rocker I had the idea of running the NYC marathon for charity. Not only does it fall on my birthday this year (2020) but I was definitely curious if I’d be able to recover from life with 2 kids to a shadow of my former self. Mostly, it’s a great birthday present to yourself – all an introvert wants for their birthday is just time to be left alone. Strange, but true.

Would it still be possible to run something long in the fall? Turns out – all you really need is motivation and stupidity. I have plenty of both so decided to convert my NYC running ambitions into a solo ultra-marathon effort, attempting to run 44 kilometers for my 44th birthday! Not exactly an amazing distance but it still qualifies as an ultra-marathon and worst comes to worst I can always head home early for cake. Because, you know – CAKE.

The plan would be to keep the course as SIMPLE as possible. I wanted to be able to accurately account for the mileage, ensure that my wife (who gallantly covered both kids) would know where I am and my estimated time to return back home. Equally, I did not want to add hills to the effort (yes, there are hills in NYC) as this might skew my pacing later on in the effort. Lastly, I wanted to ensure my nutrition was very, very dialed in. The idea would be to be MORE aggressive than ever before in the calories I’m taking in so that I would feel full of energy the entire time.

In the end, I was able to do an out & back of about 45km and finished feeling really great – I don’t think it would be a stretch to say I could have kept on going if time had allowed. Although my moving time was clearly something of a record for the marathon distance, I do wonder if this strategy on a flat course with minimal stopping breaks for hydration would result in a faster overall marathon time. This is going to be an open question for a few years until racing comes back. A few more notes for posterity and future efforts (especially, if races ever do come back):

  • Nutrition – Wow, this was locked in. I increased my gel frequency to 100 calories every 30 minutes (2 gels per hour) with 2 x 200 tailwind packets for electrolytes and other calories. This all worked perfectly. I have been using SPRING ENERGY in the summer effort and it really agrees with me – never tired of these – not too sweet, not too thick – just perfect and a real game changer. Also the frequency really speaks to the point my wife has always said: you need more calories, you bumbling idiot!
  • Caffeine – Deployed Strategically towards the latter half the effort. I did have to catch up on fluids around mile 18 – all of that water sloshing around made me feel very sick to my stomach but this was a necessary evil and I knew it would pass and I’d be in better shape for rehydrating a bunch before I started getting into the clutch miles (post 20+)
  • Training – Early morning 4am long runs – really the only way to get this shit done.
  • Trail strength – All of the trail mileage (while not fast), really translated into a lot of stability, core and leg strength. This made the hard cement streets of NYC not really a big deal. I had ZERO of the normal back issues I normally have and think all of the trail efforts during the summer really set myself up nice for this.
  • Peloton – A lot more cross-training this year (including spinning) really has made me a better runner all around. Not only is this stretching different endurance muscles but it’s forced me to really put in a lot of long zone 3 efforts to push my cross-over points up. This seems clear to me as it was another major step change in my training this year.
  • Push ups  – Another major change this year in the summer was a large focus on PUSHUPS as a CORE strength exercise. Of course, now none of my dress shirts fit because my shoulders have gotten bigger but in terms of CORE stability, I really think this the best exercise you can do – and you can do it anywhere.
  • Shoes – I’ve really been moving more and more to LIGHT, NEUTRAL and CUSHIONED shoes – the Nike Pegasus Turbo 2’s really are the sweet spot for me right now. I think a good combination of responsiveness and cushioning is what I’ll be looking for in the future. Really a shoe for me needs to be under 8oz but not without sacrificing cushioned. That seemed to really hit the sweet spot for me.
  • Form – Back when I injured my back last year, I really was trying to change my form to not only increase my cadence but also drive my stride from my GLUTES and CORE. This has really changed for the better and I hope I can keep it up. When I used to do these events, my quads would be thrashed. now my hamstrings, glutes and core are tired – think that’s the right way to know you’re driving the car from the right engine.
  • Recovery – Moscow Mules, of course.
  • Safety – The fountains were on, thank goodness, but the last thing I wanted to do was use a STORE or TAXI if I was in a bind. I was carrying a mask (of course) but really NY is starting to become a tenuous place and I wanted to make sure that if something did happen I’d be able to get home in one piece. Turns out, this was NOT really an issue – not only did I leave early enough to not have any problems but it was ALSO the day of the UNOFFICIAL NY MARATHON – tons of people doing long runs all over the city (probably more so in the park) so there was plenty of RUN GOOD energy to make everything end perfectly.
I finally arrived home to a wonderful birthday brunch with my family. Honestly, I have just the best wife in the world who understands what I need to feel energized for the long road to old age. And I felt pretty good having kept up my yearly tradition of two major races – not sure how much longer I can keep this up but as always having some notes around what went right and what went WRONG should help with future efforts.
Categories: Nutrition, RunningTags: ,

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