Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Interview with Sophie Speidel, Part 2

Part 2 of my interview with Sophie Speidel on how her training and ultrarunning has changed since her 2002 Holiday Lake. Be sure to read her top five lessons learned.

Here's Part 1 in case you missed it.


Training for a 50k is one thing. How do you train for longer distances like the 100k or 100mile?

Over the years I have discovered that I enjoy the 40mile- 100K distance more than 50K. For some reason it just suits my body and I feel best running for 8-15 hours at an aerobic pace as opposed to the faster pace of 50K. I do like to use 50Ks for training and “speed work,” but I truly love 40+ miles. I train for these longer distances using the same miles per week as I did for Masochists (see Part 1), with perhaps more longer days of 6-8 hour training runs. I am fortunate to live within 1.5 hours of excellent mountain trails, including the Wild Oak Trail (8,000 feet of climb in 25 miles) and The Priest (3500+ feet of climb in 5 miles). I try to run on these trails at least once a cycle when training for a long event, in addition to tempo runs and speed work during the week.

I have run two 100 milers: Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 in 2005, and Western States in 2006. I felt very prepared for both these events with training similar to what I described above, on similar terrain as the race, and with a few more back-to-back long runs of 30 miles one day followed by 20 miles the next. For WS, I ran repeats of The Priest and other steep climbs to condition my quads for the descents at WS. I also spent the three weeks before WS sitting in a sauna for up to 45 minutes, which really helped me that year…it was the third hottest WS ever. I had stomach problems at MMT and figured out that my body prefers fluids and gels instead of solid food, so now I only use Sustained Energy, Clif Bloks and Clif Shots and occasionally Hammergel during a race (along with water and Nuun electrolyte caps). So far it has worked really well for me but I have to make sure I eat and drink a lot and often, especially in the beginning of a race.

You indirectly compared the pain of your first ultra with childbirth. Since then, however, you have participated in some really difficult events. What is the toughest event you have done? Do they hurt less as you gain more experience?

When I finished Holiday Lake this year, six years after I first ran it, I felt tired at the end but nowhere near as destroyed as when I first ran it. My body is enjoying the training effect of the past six years of racing and training, with a good three weeks off in the winter and in the summer. I think taking that time off has helped me stay injury-free and hungry to keep training and racing, and as a result I keep feeling stronger each year.

I have been fortunate to have been able to have some amazing ultra adventures, thanks mostly to my husband and family who have encouraged me and picked up the slack at home (our kids are now 16, 14, and 11). My first 100, Massanutten, stands out because it was an emotional finish…I bonked badly at mile 85 but with help from my pacer Mike Broderick and my husband Rusty, I was able to suck it up for a finish. Later in 2005 I was invited to join some other runners for a Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim crossing of the Grand Canyon. I had never been there and I still get emotional when thinking about it. All ultrarunners should see the Grand Canyon that way…it is the true gift of ultrarunning that we can move around this earth so freely and unencumbered, and it was a day (and night) I will never forget. Western States in 2006 was a fantastic event from start to finish. I flew out to Sacramento with my husband on Wednesday and we checked out the last mile of the race in Auburn before heading west to Squaw Valley. I absolutely loved all the hype of the event and the WS trail is awesome. This is truly a “must run” event for the ultrarunner, because of all the history and tradition. I really suffered at the end of that race with blisters and anterior tibialis tendinitis caused by the rubbing of my chip timing device against my anterior tibialis tendon…I could barely run for the last 40 miles, but I finished with 45 minutes before the cut-off. The heat was grueling as well.

I think my toughest race besides the two 100s is annually the Hellgate 100K, which I have finished the last three years. It runs like a hundred and the midnight start in December is tough. I think Hellgate has given me a ton of confidence for all my other races. It forces me to be very organized with preparation and fuel, as well as pace and running all night. After Hellgate, all other events seem tame, but then again, I still haven’t run Hardrock or Barkley, which make Hellgate pale in comparison, I’m sure!

Please list the top 5 lessons learned over your 6 years of ultrarunning.

5. Each event presents a new challenge and demands flexibility: for example, my stomach can only tolerate gels and fluids for the long events, so when I couldn’t get my fuel from my drop bags at Hellgate last year, I should have eaten some of the aid station food…instead I tried to get by on what I had in my pack, and as a result, I bonked hard.

4. Staying with the flexibility theme…I have learned the importance of being able to stay mentally positive even when faced with a bonk, blisters, getting passed by another female, or whatever challenge is thrown my way. For me, a lot of the fun of racing ultras is being able to overcome the tough stuff without dropping out (and I am proud to say, I have never DNF’ed--yet)!

3. I try to train with people faster than me, and who love adventure, and have great sense of humor. It’s a great combination for an awesome day in the woods!

2. I avoid overtraining by taking time off (at least a week or two) after a long event, and by cross training. I swim and lift at least 2-3 times a week, and as a result, I have avoided many overuse injuries.

1. My family’s support is the most important gift that I have received during these six years. Without it, my time on the trail would feel empty and hollow; with it, I am able to set new goals and have some wonderful adventures. I only race and train when it completely fits my family’s schedule, and I won’t miss any of my kid’s athletic events or performances in order to race. This keeps my life balanced, and as a result, I start races feeling very grateful and fulfilled…so whatever the outcome, it’s all good!

What are your ultrarunning goals for the next 6 years?

My kids are at ages where I want and need to be home with them, supporting their activities and needs…so the next six years will most likely be local races that fit my schedule and training time. I would like to remain competitive in the 40-49 age group, and some races I would love to try once the kids are out of the house include Miwok 100K, Where’s Waldo 100K, Hardrock 100, and a stage race like the Trans Rockies. I would love to run in the Alps and in Ireland and Scotland.

Thanks Sophie! Keep running strong.


Sophie Speidel said...

Thank you, Neal, for giving me the chance to reflect and share. I have learned so much from reading other runners' wisdom from the trail, and hope that what I have learned will inspire others to reach beyond what they think they can do...

Hey, great run at Catawba this past weekend! I know your 8:30 was a PR for you on that course. Catawba was a watershed run for me in 2004---I went into it a virtual ultra newbie and, 9.5 hours later, left feeling like I had truly found "it"---and the rest is history! Thanks for all your support over these years...it is so comforting to hear your voice out there in the dark at Hellgate. Happy Spring!

Neal Jamison said...

Thank YOU Sophie! Your first ultra was my first ultra after many years off from running. We finished within minutes of each other, and we've been close ever since. I had a perfect day at Catawba, and managed to get ahead and stay ahead of you. I knew you were back there... Happy Spring to you too, and thanks again for sharing your experiences.