I had it in my mind that I was going to bust my butt to get and stay in top shape through the year in order to excel at KAEM. However, life disrupted those plans and it didn't exactly follow the plans I had. To start with, I was pretty burned out mentally and physically after a big summer last year running Hardrock and the Moose. Adding to that fatigue – or perhaps causing it – I was going through a job change from the place I had been for the past five years to an environment I did not end up being that comfortable in. I struggled in the workplace, and that affected my training. I ended up leaving the new place and, quite fortunately, ended up back in my old job again. I felt much better after that, but then I got sick (working in a hospital - coincidence? ;-). The flu/virus thing exhausted me, and kept recurring. Every couple of weeks when I would feel better, I would go out for a blast of training, then immediately would get whacked with illness again. This cycle blew my plans to prepare and start the season with the Coyote 2 Moon 100-miler in March, and set my overall training cycle back by a couple of months.
I had mixed race results in the early season, with an OK performance followed by one where I cratered, followed again by something great. I blew up at the Silver State 50 mile like I haven't done for years, but turned around two weeks later to take the overall win at the Scorched Sole 50-mile (my first ultra win, by the way!) My next goal was Hardrock, and though I had visualised running to a top-ten placing a few months ago, knew that I would probably struggle somewhere along the way.
Indeed, that was the way Hardrock turned out for me. The first two-thirds of the race held great promise, and I exceeded my performance expectations to run into the Governor's Basin aid station at 65 miles in a top-ten spot at the time. Yeah, I know all about going too hard and blowing early in a race, but this was different; I felt great up to that point and did not feel that I was pushing my pace nor straining. Anyways, to make a pathetic story short, my legs blew and I hobbled the remaining 35 miles to a still-respectable-but-hardly-optimal finish. I just wasn't trained to go 100 miles yet.
I kept up the training after Hardrock, and culminated in a good 120-mile week by pacing my friend Janet at Cascade Crest one weekend, and running in Bishop for the Evolution 100k loop and some shorter runs six days later. The week after that I took my full KAEM racing pack loaded with 20 pounds of food and gear on a long 45km run in Manning Park. All these runs went well, and I was feeling pretty solid in fitness and my ability to run with a pack. I was missing some specific training I wanted like running in beach sand and more work with the pack, but I was comfortable with my general fitness.
Let's Get Physical
How am I feeling going into the race? Pretty darned good, I wish I had been doing the kind of training I have done in the past month back in April!! There have overall been some good signs for me, and a couple of potentially bad things.
On the good side, cramming the long miles in over the past while has ended up with me losing about 3 or 4 pounds to reach what I think of as my ideal race weight. This is good, in that I have less weight to carry along and less body mass to heat up in the desert. I feel leaner, and that is a positive mental boost. I was going well in my long runs, and able to absorb the weight of the pack with no issues, mostly.
On the bad side, I have two worries. The first is regarding my back: on my long run with my pack, I was literally in the last 100 metres of the 45km trail when something "popped" in the middle of my back on one side in the main muscle band along your spine. It wasn't an acute pain, but felt kind of like a blister had popped and then was just a dull ache. There was no blister on the skin, but the next day I had a 7-cm long strip that was swollen up along the muscle. Again, there was no acute pain but just a dull ache. It has slowly faded since, but there is still some lingering aching, so I hope it doesn't come back when I run with a full load again.
My second potential bad thing is that I have grown a cluster of plantar warts right in the middle of one heel pad. I haven't had plantar warts for many years, and I have to wonder why now, and why so darned huge? Sorry for the graphic description, but these things have grown pretty big over the past three weeks (shoulda burned them off a long time ago!) and it is painful to walk in bare feet on a hard surface. Again, I am hoping that these don't cause problems in the race.
Other than that, I feel great!
The Gear, Food and Pack
Like most self-sufficient stage runs, KAEM requires that the runner carry everything he/she needs to survive the week except water and shelter. There are the obvious things like food and clothes that one will need, and the race also mandates that everyone carry some mandatory survival and safety gear. There is also a minimum calorie count that you have to have for every day.
Thanks to Nathan Human Performance systems, I will be running with a Nathan HPL063 pack, a 30 litre bag that has a design foundation based on David Horton's record 66-day run of the Pacific Crest Trail. While the 063 isn't the lightest pack out there at 920 grams, it is designed for running and comfort, with a lot of easily accessible pockets and water bottle holders. It holds all my stuff nicely, and hasn't caused any blisters, chafing or other pains so far.
Jammed into it all is my food and gear that I will be carrying. I have tried to be as minimalist as possible, using some techniques learned from ultralight backpacking, and have done reasonably well keeping my overall gear weight low, at about 8.5 pounds including the pack. This is critical to get down as far as possible, because you have to carry this weight through the entire race, in contrast to food that you consume over time. I may be able to trim another pound or so if I swap my down sleeping bag for an emergency reflective bivy sack, but it depends on how cold it will be at night. (Good sleep is important for daily recovery and being able to keep running well).
Food has been my biggest challenge, primarily the calories I need to take in while I run. I typically race on gels alone, and don't take in solid food during a 100-miler. Gels are heavy, so I won't use them in KAEM. What else to do then, to ensure I get readily available but lightweight calories? I have opted for making gel on a daily basis, mixing Sustained Energy carbohydrate powder into a thick paste. This way, I carry powder, and mix it with water just when needed. I did this during the Moose, and though a bit fiddly, it worked well. The only downside is that I still have about 2 kg/4.5 pounds of powder to carry.
Breakfast will be some instant coffee, paired with a homemade energy bar composed of dates, hemp seeds, hemp protein, chia seeds, and macadamia nuts (400 calories per bar, and quite tasty). Recovery drink and lunch will be Vega meal replacement mix, again a powder. This is a complete carb/fat/protein mix that I always use after my long runs, and it works well. I may opt to switch the bars and Vega for breakfast/lunch, just for variety or what I feel like.
Dinner is a typical backpacker's dehydrated add-hot-water-to-the-bag deal, with a variety of menu items.
Finally, I may pack some treats in the form of instant mashed potatoes or Lousiana hot-sauce-flavoured pretzel bits. I'm thinking the pretzels sound pretty good, how about you? ;-)
Rehydration and electrolytes will all come from nuun. The stuff works, and works well. My only complaint is that it is a bit heavy, relatively speaking, but: it will be hot, I will need electrolytes, and nuun works. End of argument.
Clothing: daily race wear will be my white nuun Patagonia silkweight shirt, Zensah compression shorts with Patagonia Ultra shorts over top, my END Stumptown 10 shoes, and a white OR SunRunner hat with cape. I have three pair of socks to change through, cleaning them and my compression shorts each day if possible. Evening wear is a Patagonia Capilene 4 long sleeve shirt, CW-X compression long tights, and dollar-store flip-flops with red racing stripes. I have a Sugoi Helium jacket as well for wind and cool or damp weather.
Overall pack weight came out to bang on 20 pounds when I left home, but I will be making some weight-reducing adjustments once I get to Africa: a choice on sleeping bag vs. bivy sack, and emptying the dinner meals from their foil pouches into zip-lock bags except one that I will reuse. Hopefully this will drop a pound or more for me, it all makes a significant difference. By comparison, some competitors get down to 8 kilos (~17.5 pounds) so I'm not too far off.