During the Javelina Jundred I ran for a while with Susan Donnelly. I really enjoyed our conversation and didn't realize until later that she is a 100 mile expert, completing more than 40 100 milers! I recently interviewed her and am excited to share some of her wisdom.
What made you decide to run your first ultra marathon?
Way back in college, I saw an article about Western States 100 with a photo of Anne Trason, and something inside said "yes! I can do that. I want to do that!" I'd run in high school but gotten out of the habit in college, so I started running 5ks, then 10ks, then marathons. I ran maybe 30 or so marathons and lost interest in trying to chase seconds here or there in a setting that may or not have been interesting and was ready for the next thing when I saw an ad for Mountain Masochist, remembered the article on WS100 and how I loved playing in the woods as a kid, and knew it was time for ultras.
What does your typical training week look like?
First of all, there is no such thing as typical. At the moment, I work full-time with 10-hour days, my boyfriend lives 2 hours away and has kids, so my training is catch-as-catch can. That said, I manage to run 3-6 miles most mornings during a work week and race or work in some longer runs on the weekends. It definitely takes some creativity to get mileage in some weeks.
What does your peak week look like before a 100 miler?
Again, there's nothing typical but in general, the only thing that changes is the long run the weekend before. Sometimes I run back-back 100s, sometimes it's only 20 miles, sometimes, no long run. The weekly mileage stays as close to normal as I can keep it, but I always take the day before the race off, if only just to travel to the race.
What do you do when you reach that low point during a race when you are physically and/or mentally spent and you still have many more miles to run?
First, I remember the myriad of other times I've been in that situation or harder and pulled out of it. That usually puts in perspective. Then analyze the problem to figure out the cause - low on calories, off on hydration or electrolytes, pushing the pace more than I should for my ability that day...? In a way, it's a fun challenge, like solving a puzzle. Whatever the answer, fix it if and how I can and keep going. I've DNFed a few times and quickly learned to keep going until they pull me. And ultimately, I'd still rather be out on the trail dealing with that challenge and seeing the things I'm seeing than most other things I could be doing. You don't get to race every day, so enjoy it, however you can, when you get the chance.
What race strategy do you try to follow when going into a 100 miler?
With as many ultras as you run each year, you must be focused on smart recovery after a race. What works for you during the recovery process?
In order - initial compression and icing my legs below the knee to get rid of swelling, frequent walking breaks from the car or my desk, hydration, sleeping, stretching, eating right.
What keeps you coming back to ultra marathons?
Thank goodness I've been lucky enough to find a true passion in my life. I simply love it. I love trail running, exploring, the people that share that passion and the mental, physical, and spiritual joy I get from it. That's it. And I never take that for granted.
What tips do you have for someone interested in getting into ultra running?
Know yourself. Learn from others but always decide what works for you, and never, ever get discouraged or give up. Learn yourself, how a comfortable form feels, how different miles per hour paces feel, your body's early signs of dehydration or electrolyte imbalance, what that voice in your mind says when you're tired and still have miles to go. And learn from your mistakes - they're precious gifts and we've all made them. This is fun and there's no end to the things this sport will teach you about yourself and life.
You can check out Susan's website at www.susanruns100s.com .
I hope to have more upcoming interviews where we can learn from running and racing experts.