Getting Ready to Conquer the Rock

I’ve registered to complete the Conquer the Rock double during the first weekend in March. The “double” consists of two races: a 50k race on Saturday followed by a 25k race on Sunday.

Conquer the Rock is a true mountain trail ultra: lots of elevation change and consisting mostly of single track hiking trails. Each of these races is a tough day in the woods. As someone who has covered this type of elevation and distance before, I have a pretty decent idea the kind of challenge that’s ahead of me, and the lessons taken from prior experience have shaped my training plan heading into these races.

Everyone Has a Plan Until They Get Hit

Having a plan is great, but plans are always subject to change. Over the last two weeks I’ve run over 70 miles (in combination) and this past weekend I got in a 20 mile run. Right now, I feel great – as good as I’ve felt since at least last summer. Everything feels like it should. My knees feel great, my feet feel great, my chronically grumpy right achilles is at least keeping quiet if not entirely happy.

My training plan assumes that all of these conditions remain true. If I keep feeling good, and life doesn’t get in the way, these are my plans. On the other hand, if I do start to feel any significant aches or pains, or if life does get in the way as it has a tendency to do, my plans will adjust as necessary.

Lots of Vert

The first thing I’m doing leading up to Conquer the Rock is dedicating at least one run per week to getting as much vertical climbing as possible. My mandatory weekly vert-inducing run is a 1.5 mile continuous climb up Hickory Nut Mountain in Tallulah Falls, GA. This section of road is paved, but rises over 700 feet over a distance of 1.5 miles. The climbing is relentless and I force myself to run the entire distance. The word “run” is relative: I maintain a running form but during the steepest portions my pace gets as slow as 13 minutes per mile.

For the last month or so I’ve run Hickory Nut Mountain once per week and I’ll continue to do so at least once per week until I reach my taper week the week before the race.

Lots of Miles

The second thing I’m doing leading up to Conquer the Rock is logging a few runs that are at least as long as the 25k race (15 miles or more). My first such run was this past Saturday when I logged 20 miles in the Lake Russell WMA.

There are six weekends between now and Conquer the Rock. I plan to log runs that are least 25k each of those weekends except for the final weekend where I’ll begin my taper. Counting my 20 miler this past weekend, that will mean I’ll run 25k or longer six weekends in a row, including planned 26 mile and 31 mile runs on January 29 and February 12.

Lots of Trails

Most of Conquer the Rock consists of single-track hiking trails. So I’m making sure that at least one of my runs each week is out on single-track hiking trails. I can either do this by getting in a 10k distance effort out in the woods on a weekday or by incorporating trails into my long runs on the weekend. Either option works, as long as one of them happens.

Get Some Rest

The last piece in my race training plan is to ramp down my training in the last two weeks prior to the race. After my planned 31 mile (50k) training run on February 12, I’ll take it very easy for the next two weeks until Conquer the Rock. I’ll get in some runs, but they’ll all be run at an easy pace.

Race Day Strategy

To quote the race director, when race day arrives, my plan is this:

On the first loop, don’t be stupid. On the second loop, don’t be a wimp.

Matt Hammersmith, as quoted by Heather Hart

50k is a long way, especially when you’re out on hiking trails and either going uphill or downhill virtually 100% of the time. My goal will be to take it easy and finish the first loop feeling strong, and then see what the legs have left to give during the second loop.

On Sunday, my goal will just be to finish. Even if I walk or hike 100% of the race, that’s ok. Sunday’s 25k will just be about getting to the finish line and having fun.

Featured photo by Kyle Kranz on Unsplash

4 thoughts on “Getting Ready to Conquer the Rock”

    • I think you’re right! At the same time, the tricky thing about trail ultras is that it’s really easy to get stuck behind a long line of slower runners if you go out too slow. So I think I’ll push for the first 2 miles and then slow waaaaay down. When I ran Sky to Summit I took it easy right out of the gate and it really cost me for the first 5 or 6 miles because I was stuck behind a long line of much slower runners and I want not to duplicate that mistake if I can avoid it.

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