In February of this year I got into the mindset of running an ultramarathon, mostly to see if I could do it, but also to be an incentive towards longer endurance type training for longer days of climbing and ski touring. I found the Lofoten Ultra 50 race in Norway and was planning (and loosely training) for it in June. Unfortunately, the logistics of getting up there, my summer employment, and the cost of entry all led to never participating in the race. Arriving back in the US I again tried to find myself and ultra to race in but the growing popularity of these events meant waitlists galore. Eventually, I decided to run my own, self-supported in Kings Canyon National Park on the Rae Lakes Loop Trail. The loop involves 42 miles with 8500 feet of vertical gain all at altitude between 5000-11,900ft.
While I hadn’t done too much long-distance training runs over the last few months, I had been working well at improving speed and running technique with interval and tempo workouts. When I got back to California, I ended up comfortably running one of my faster half marathons, giving me some confidence that as long as I lowered intensity, the planned 42-mile loop wouldn’t be impossible. Roughly a week before the run, I tested my legs with an easy paced marathon and felt good, completing it right around the 4-hour mark. While I wasn’t running huge mileage (less than 50mi per week), I think the consistency of 5-6 days a week of running, helped dramatically improve overall aerobic fitness and recovery comparative to winter.
Aside from the challenge of distance, the lack of aid stations meant I’d have to carry all of my supplies and nutrition. I opted to run with the Ultimate Direction Fastpack 35 as it’s large capacity meant I could cram all my clothing, diabetes supplies and nutrition in one pack. Nutrition wise, I relied on a mix of brands with Clif ShotBloks and Hammer Gels being my main simple sugars, Hammer Perpetuem my liquid calories and a mix of Clif Bars and Pro Bars for some solid fuel. I also carried Nuun tablets with me to replenish electrolytes as I had a fear of muscle cramps. With no access to replenish fuel along the way, I ended up carrying close to four pounds of food as to not risk running out and facing untreatable hypoglycemia. Due to the risk of giardia, I had to filter water and picked up the MSR Trail Shot which did an awesome job. My major concerns for the day would be altitude, hydration, and maintaining adequate calorie intake.
I left Concord at 1 A.M. Saturday morning and arrived at the trailhead at roughly 6:30. For breakfast I took a risk and had a Chevron special Jimmy Dean breakfast sandwich and crappy coffee which to my surprise gave me no issues. Two hours prior to starting I began a temporary basal reducing my insulin by 50% to take into account the next day of exercise. Even with that, my blood sugar was low at the start and I had to take about 70g of carbs at mile 0.
My general plan was to remain within Zone 1-2 of my heart rate throughout the whole run but the weather changed that plan quickly. It was going to be hot with some noon time thunder and showers which meant I wanted to be over the pass before noon. With 17 miles and 7000 feet of ascent to get there, I began at a 12-13-minute pace on the flats with a 15ish minute pace on any severe uphill. This continued beautifully until 15 miles in when I began to feel the effects of altitude and my pace slowed. Nevertheless, I pushed onwards, reaching Glen Pass right at noon. I had spent most of my time in Zone 3, higher than I had wanted. While my legs felt great, I think the higher intensity as well as some dehydration led to a super nasty stomach ache. This made the descent less pleasurable than decided with large steps and jumps causing some crippling stomach pain. After a few miles of downhill, the gradient flattened and I stopped to refill and filter water at Rae Lakes. This included a wonderful hail and rain storm which cooled me down a little too much. It took the next few miles to warm up and dry out.
After refilling and a bit of rehydration, I started up again at my 13-minute pace but had a much harder time maintaining it. While my legs felt fine, it also felt like the momentum I had at the start of the day had faded and by mile 30 I was feeling pretty toasted. Looking back, I had severely undereaten throughout the day, only consuming about 1000 calories over the first 30 miles. I ended up stopping with 8 miles to go and forcing down a ProBar just to get some sort of food in. While I imagined feeling starving on this run, the opposite happened and continually consuming calories was the toughest part. After my battle with swallowing a dry bar down, I went into autopilot until the finish, briefly pausing to let a rattlesnake pass the trail before returning to the car. I chatted with some Rangers after, drove to get a burger and diet coke (which I had been dreaming of at mile 30) and made my way to Bearskin to sleep for the night. The last 10 miles or so were tough as the hours of descending began to cause compressive back pain and for some reason my core was on fire. Looks like I need to do more cross training.
After a week of reflection, I definitely feel like I could have done it faster. If I were to repeat it I would focus on bringing much more liquid calories and less solid fuel. I would also start much earlier in the day to limit exposure to sun and heat. Maybe next year I’ll see how much I can improve time wise!
Diabetes wise, I maintained blood sugars within range almost the whole time. Only towards the end of the day did I face a few lows, but the temporary basal and 30-45g carbs per hour seemed to maintain well. I didn’t check my blood sugar via fingerstick once, relying purely on the Dexcom which is pretty cool from an athlete perspective. I did carry Lantus and extra Humalog in case my OmniPod decided to fail.
Shout out to Headsweats for the support, I ended up starting the run in a race hat and ending it in an Ultra Band when the sun started to go down.
42 miles done, lets try 50 next, and hey maybe 100 isn’t too far off?