Going Solo - Page 2
Plan the Course. Don't let the logistics overwhelm you. First, determine a destination, whether it's halfway across the country, or in your own "backyard." Next, study trail maps and define your course. I asked renowned ultrarunner Dean Karnazes how he maps his solo adventures. "Typically, I start by selecting the end destination," he says. "Then, I choose the route. Right now I use the iMapMyRun app on my iPhone." Other course-planning resources include trailmapping.com, trails.com and gpstrailsource.com (see also Trail Tested, "Mobil Mania," Issue 71, March 2011).
A multiple-loop course is the easiest to plan, but can become monotonous. Point-to-point runs offer fresh scenery for the whole run, but require more planning when it comes to food, hydration and getting back. I prefer an out-and-back format, because the halfway mark is distinct, and defining your course and nutrition is simpler.
Train. While you need to log the necessary training miles, going solo requires much more self reliance and a broad range of skills. If you plan on running through the night, train in the dark. Along with a headlamp, I like to carry a mini Maglite to illuminate the trail. Remember spare batteries. It's also crucial to train carrying all your supplies. Consider buying a running-specific backpack with at least 600 cubic inches of volume (I use the GoLite VO24; other good brands are Osprey and Mountain Hardwear).
"Your backpack-hydration system is critically important during solo and unsupported adventure runs," says Karnazes. "And comfort is paramount."
Nutrition. In an organized event, well-stocked aid stations are around every corner. When you go solo, though, you have to depend on what you carry or stow along the way. A loop course is simplest, because you can use your vehicle or a cooler(s) stashed in the bushes as an aid station.
Out-and-back and point-to-point runs pose more challenges. You can hide food along the way and carry it with you. Freeze-dried meals are light and nutrient dense, but require a stove, either carried or stashed.
Nail down your refueling plan—success hinges on it. Plan on having more than enough water and sports drink. On a loop course you are able to stockpile plenty of water, but when it comes to an out-and-back or point-to-point, you will need to use a backpack with a water bladder, and have spots along the way to refill (remember a filter or treatment tablets or drops).
Crew or Pacer. While tainting their purity, I've done solo ultras with a skeletal crew—my wife. Like an organized event, having a crew or pacer boosts your morale and adrenaline. For the sake of safety, having a cell phone (provided it gets reception) is advised. You can stay connected regardless of cell coverage with satellite messenger systems such as Spot II or Garmin GTU 10. With the push of a button you can send a pre-programmed message, along with your location to friends and family. An option is to have someone check on you halfway and arrange for a pacer the last five or 10 miles.
Bring Motivation. Without the inertia of other runners you need to bring the motivation. The last solo ultra I ran, I wrote a phrase on one arm in red permanent marker and a line from a favorite poem on the other. When I felt low I would look down. Bring a Ziploc baggy with index cards that have sayings, poems, people to finish for and reasons you will not stop. An iPod loaded with playlists, running podcasts and audio books helps break through fogs of negativity (unless you're afraid of not being able to hear stealthy bears or lions).
Pace Chart. On an index card, jot down your planned mile splits and goals. On the trail it's easy to feel good and go out too fast. I ran a very flat solo ultra way too fast and it came back to stab me in the calves.
If you need to take walking breaks, remind yourself by setting your watch to beep every 10 to 15 minutes, or listening to a playlist on your iPod and walking during every 3rd song. Sticking to a predetermined pace will increase your chances of finishing.