Assessing my form for Ultra Sierra Nevada

In a little over 24 hours I’ll be lining up on the start line of the Ultra Sierra Nevada and most likely staring down the barrel of my first DNF.

Nope I’m not being particularly negative; I’m being realistic about my chances of completing.

It’s all too easy to get on the ‘must have positive thoughts’ bandwagon and then (predictably some might say) fall flat on your face!

Interestingly new research carried out on endurance athletes shows the most successful do indeed embrace and consider the risks of failure. You see ultra running isn’t all plain sailing and there will be some point in every race when the wheels start to jolt, the brakes stick, and you feel like death. It’s how you deal with those situations which determines whether you succeed or fail. Going in fully prepared means you know how to react, get over it, and carry on if safe to do so.

Ultra racers are the ultimate gamble, and I guess that’s why we do them…some are just a bigger gamble than others and tomorrow night is going to be one big game of Russian roulette.

Course reccy and kit check.

Course reccy and kit check.

I’ve spent the last couple of weeks working out the odds and I’m almost certain Sierra Nevada is a gamble too far.

It’s 103km with over 6,000m ascent in 25 hours which equates to:

  1. An elevation gain which just doesn’t see possible at the pace I can move at (uncomfortably) over that distance.
  2. Add in the 4,000m descent and I’ve got more issues. I’m slow down steep hills. Great at saving quads over the distance but too slow to cover the mileage.
  3. We start at midnight, aka pitch black trail, aka move even slower on trail. There’s an abundance of single track which while lovely to run is a nightmare for overtaking. Get bottled behind a slower runner and they could well get you timed out come CP1.
  4. An old injury in my right ankle/ shin flared up a week or so ago. I’ve spent the last four days sat on my backside…and the ligament into my ankle is still swollen and painful. The ligament always gets tetchy when I start running downhill for the simple fact is I am immediately overtraining as soon as I step foot on a hill after being in Qatar where it’s pan flat. We’re back to the old scenario… you can train for uphills in the gym but there’s no way you can train for downhills without running downhill 🙁 The osteo has done what he can but he reckons the damage is a permanent reminder of a previous injury – trouble is I can’t remember doing this one maybe jumping off a horse I think – the remedy is to strengthen my ankle muscles and gradually build up downhill work which doesn’t involve running a 100km in the mountains just yet.
  5. Not many have ever finished this one, and even fewer women (around 20 women in the last five years).

To even the odds out:

  1. We go up to 3,2000m altitude…despite training at or below sea level I probably am used to
    At 3,200m Veleta will be an altitude test.

    At 3,200m Veleta will be an altitude test.

    this sort of oxygen deficit courtesy of Doha 😉

  2. Temperatures in the Sierras will easily hit mid 20s or higher. Hot for many but perfect running temperatures for desert dwellers – a little chilly even.




Will I start? Hell yeah! I’m expecting to get pulled at the 70km mark, which will still equate to 16 hours on the trails and from my analysis the half way mark of the race, which takes into account the combined elevation gain and technicality V distance.

It doesn’t take much to calculate that the 1,000m climb up and back down in the last 10km is the sting on the end of a very long tail; but reccying bits of the course and deciphering last year’s notes the Veleta isn’t the main issue.

There’s a meaty 640m elevation gain from the start to the first checkpoint at 12.1km, the theme continues with 545m to the next and then special notes to take care of grave danger and risk of falling between CP2 and 3 at 34km. It seems that we’ve the mother of all firebreaks to ascend and then get down the other side on loose rocky terrain. The advice is to climb up/down the side as best you can, taking great care. Ooo, and just as a little reminder, runners will hit this at dawn or just before…so, remind me, when is the time you’re most likely to have a wobble in an overnight race? Why, of course, it’s just before the sun rises when your body goes: ‘what the heck, I should be catching some last minute zzzz’s!’ Fan-bloody-tastic!

As breakfast rolls around we’ve actually got some easier running with ‘only’ a 522m gain to CP4. Normal service is resumed with a 727m ascent to CP5. On to CP6 and where I think I’ll be calling it a day, or getting told to call it a day as I miss a cut off. I’ve done a section of the route here and it’s going to be a hard ascent and then a flattish track along the top before we drop down to Guejar Sierra at 69.7km. There’s a full feed station here, drop bags, and a bus up to the finish so it seems a sensible place to plan to stop.

If by any chance the biggest of miracles happens and I do arrive in enough time to keep pushing on I’ll enjoy a 954m climb over 11km (around half the steepness of Veleta) to CP7 before a more modest +554 climb to the 88.8km mark and some of the trickiest track I’ve ever had to follow. Yes, I’ve done some reccy work on this and let’s be honest ‘track’ is too generous a description. It’s over rocks, under thorn bushes and through pine trees. It isn’t going to be much fun at 80+km. There will then just be the final up and down for the 103km-ish route.

With 30 hours, in good shape (I’m not), and I reckon I could scrape in, but 25 – no chance. I’ve set up live-tracking via Facebook so you’ll be able to monitor what km I hit before I quit.

So it’s over you – place your bets, how far will I get?


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2 Responses to Assessing my form for Ultra Sierra Nevada

  1. Judy Alexander says:

    Whatever you end up doing, you’ll do it with style & panache, Sarah! I’ll be sending foot-happy thoughts your way! Good luck!

    • Thanks, I’m just going to enjoy myself…and hopefully not skewer anyone on my run poles in the dark 🙂 If I’m still in at dawn, I’ll be taking photos to share afterwards (we need to carry a phone plus I’ve got a charge stick so I may as well make the most of it).

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