Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Plain un-Plain

The next 100 miler after Plain on the schedule is my perennial (3rd time) trek to Phoenix, AZ for the Javelina Jundred. Other than both being listed as 100 miles (and both being longer than said distance), these two races share very little in common. There are so many ways in which Plain stands alone in my racing experience, but none so much as in the preparation that was required. In different ways, preparing for Plain was both more and less than other races. The "more" part seemed almost overwhelming at first.

Weeks out from Plain, I felt like a complete and total newbie. It was to be my 9th 100 miler, but I felt more like I was tackling my very first ultra. The logistics seemed so daunting. My initial focus was on the maps and directions. Packing was just too much to consider until I could glean at least a basic understanding of the course. I am generally pretty good with directions and, for the most part, the times when I've missed turns in races were from lack of focus. There would be no cruising past intersections in this one; zoning out on the run was not an option. Still, I wanted to obtain as much of a feel for the route as possible from the topographical maps. As I followed the contour lines, I imagined the bits where I'd be climbing or descending for long periods and took special care to note the distances of all turns.

Harry sent me a copy of the GPX tracks for the course, allowing me to view it in Google Earth and the obsession was taken to a whole new level. I walked through the entire virtual tour of the course multiple times. The climbs and descents became more real. While I, obviously, couldn't see an exact image from the trail, I could stop at points and rotate the view to see surrounding peaks and valleys. Mainly, I just tried to get an image of the whole thing in my head, envisioning when I would be headed north or south, memorizing prominent features or landmarks. This was as close to a course preview as I was going to get. Once I felt there was a reasonable imagine fixed in my head, I turned my focus to the written directions.

The Plain 100 website supplies detailed instructions on all the trail intersections for the course including warnings about any potentially confusing bits. The directions supply the micro-view to the map's macro version. I divided the instructions into sections and pasted them into an electronic document formatted as a table. Each rectangular cell contained the text describing a single stretch between trail intersections or turns. I then added the mileage estimates at the below the text (overall and segment totals for the second loop). My intention was to cut these up like "flashcards" and put them into a Ziploc bag. I would then keep the current section at the front facing out. When I printed the whole thing out, I discovered that I could actually fold the paper in such a way that a simple unfold/re-fold operation would put the right section in front without the need to deal with dozens of bits of paper. It's a little hard to explain, but if you've ever seen someone read the Times on a NY Subway, you get the general idea.

I could only occupy myself so long with the course before I had to face the fact that I wasn't going to be able to avoid packing until the last minute like I usually do. At other 100 milers, say Javelina with its aid stations every 5 miles and two drop bags per 15 mile loop, you can just throw all the stuff that you might possibly need into a few sacks, plan your water needs between aid and figure it out later. The idea of having to fit everything I would need for somewhere between 55-59 miles--as much as 17 hours--into a single pack, left me more than a little fearful. I'd already decided to stick with my UD Wasp.

I wanted to have at least some "real food" and I knew from my experiment pacing at Headlands that bean burritos worked well for me. I also wanted to have some stuff that I knew I could handle and so Clif Bars and some gels also easy choices. Beyond that, I went in search of foods that were both compact, but calorie dense. It was weird to be counting calories on the back of packages, but looking for the highest values possible. Bonk Busters were a good choice and would replace my PB&J staple. I also added in some Promax bars, flattened bananas from Trader Joes and some beef jerky. This last is actually not very calorie dense, but I knew that sometimes it is exactly what I need late in a race. I didn't make a list of everything I took and now I wish I had. My goal was to carry around 3000-4000 calories for each loop.

My UD Wasp was about as fully packed as it can be. I filled all of the front pockets with food and other immediate needs (electrolytes, etc.). I attached an external storage pouch to the back with more food. I stuffed my lightweight shell and gloves into the mesh pocket on the back and strapped a second water bottle to with the cinch straps. I filled the back compartment with some more reserve food and backup supplies (extra batteries, etc.), but that space was limited by the 100oz bladder I was going to need to fill with water for the long stretch. I had another handheld I would carry for my NUUN mix. Basically, the pack was stretched to the limit. I only planned to completely fill the the bladder once at mile 30 so I figured some of the supplies would move from the pack to my gut by then.

For a drop bag it was a bit easier. In fact, easier even than for a standard 100. If I couldn't survive on what I could hold in my pack for the first loop, there was no point having much more in the drop bag for the shorter second loop. The drop was basically a resupply of what was in my pack with a few extra options. I threw in a change of clothes including a few warmer options if needed. I also figured to put in some special items that I would eat during the break. Beat and I agreed to split a pizza and I figured I'd make it my one risky food items. I'd had mixed results with pizza, but couldn't think of any other real food to put in there.


Well, that about sums up the prep I did for Plain. I started this post some weeks ago and, due to a busy work schedule, am just finishing it now that Javelina is less than a week away. I'm back to my usual procrastinator self. I'll put it all together some time before Thursday night. I'll also make sure to post something about my race goals such as they are. It seems such a casual race after Plain. Which is probably why I'm having a hard time getting motivated for serious goals. Well, that and the fact that my training has been, to use the vernacular of my father's homeland, complete shite. No matter, it's gonna be a load of fun.