Trail & Ultra Lessons Learned By Wes Plate
KREW member Wes Plate started running ultras in 2015. In the past 12 months, he ran 9 big races, such as Gorge Waterfalls 100k, Cocodona 250 mile, Tahoe 200 mile and Bigfoot 200. He recently shared several insights with us.
Which big trail and ultra races have you done in the past 12 months?
- September 2021 - Attempted Teanaway 100, DNFed I ran out of time to get home
- October 2021 - Rogue Gorge 50K
- November 2021 - Rio Del Lago 100
- January 2022 - Bandera 100K
- April 2022 - Gorge Waterfalls 100K
- April 2022 - Ancient Lakes 50K
- May 2022 - Cocodona 250
- June 2022 - Tahoe 200
- August 2022 - Bigfoot 200
- Coming up: October 2022 - Moab 240
What is your WHY to run big ultra races?
The challenge of big 200+ mile races is so big, and it requires us to really dig deep to push through a lot of discomfort. There are emotional lows along the way, but the highs we feel can be tremendous. My most intense runners highs have been at day three or day four of a 200+ miler. That feeling is worth the three days it took to get there.
But along with the challenge comes the community that supports as. The community of crew, and volunteers, and also the other runners, is so positive and loving. This is also what draws me to this sport. I love encouraging others, and I love how others encourage me. We’re all working together and it is wonderful feeling.
What has been your most challenging ultra so far and why? Please describe one of the toughest spots and how you overcame this?
Bigfoot 200 has the most difficult course, but my finish at Tahoe 200 was my hardest fought. Shortly after mile 65 of Tahoe I was working up a long climb and I found it more and more difficult to breathe. As my breathing suffered, my energy waned, and my pace slowed. Occasionally I could cough up some mucus, but it seemed to be accumulating in my lungs faster than I could cough it out. Going uphill was starting to feel impossible at times, and I worried I was looking at a DNF.
Indeed at the Mile 80 aid station friends of mine were dropping. After a brief break to refuel and restock, I spoke with the medic for advice about the breathing, then headed out to get to mile 100 where I had crew waiting. I stopped many times along the first few miles out of the mile 80 aid station. Should I turn back and DNF? I can barely move on these uphills! I seriously considered dropping over and over. Runners passed and gave encouragement to keep moving.
Eventually I made it to mile 100 where I ate and then laid down to sleep for a few hours. It was transformative. Immediately upon waking up I coughed up LOTS of mucus, and I felt I could breathe again. The next segment leaving mile 100 felt fantastic.
But my challenge didn’t end there. Within 25 miles I was again suffering somewhat on uphill climbs and I tried in vain to cough it all out. By mile 150 I was ready for another sleep, and again lying down helped me clear my lungs. The cycle repeated where I felt great out of that aid station, but 25 miles later I was again struggling to make forward process when the trail went up hill. Run, cough, spit, lie down, clear lungs, repeat, that was my journey.
Overcoming this respiratory battle partly came from adapting to the conditions and trying new strategies. Another runner had suggested that lying down helped her clear her lungs, so I did that along the way even when I wasn’t napping. Just something to help settle the fluid. You can’t be rigid in an ultra, you must be wiling to make adjustments and try new things when the plan falls apart.
What is one mistake you feel many athletes make when it comes to ultra endurance events of 100 miles or longer?
We could all do well to heed the advice to not go out too fast. Just about every race I do, I’m running way to fast in the first 10 or so miles. I can’t help it, it feels good! But more specifically to big ultras, if you’re running a distance that suggests you’ll need to sleep, like in a 200 miler, consider sleep to be like hydration and fuel. It isn’t something you can go without. And the more you can work it into your race routine and be proactive, it will pay dividends. Many runners wait to sleep until they’re tired, or they wait until they’re past tired. But I have found in my recent 200s that lying down to sleep at strategic aid stations made everything better.
Do you have any advice for runners looking to improve their trail / ultra running experiences?
Make it fun. Hopefully the race is a happy culmination of a lot of dreaming and planning, and hopefully you take away from it wonderful memories. But the real work is in the training. You’ll spend hundreds of more hours training than you will racing, I suggest making the training runs as enjoyable as possible too. Train at locations that reward you with what you like. I like to get into mountains when I can, see views that you have to work for, but I often run roads for the sake of convenience and schedule. While I don’t love road running, I try to find routes that are at least interesting. A couple years ago I tracked the road running I did using CityStrides.com and over the course of many months I worked through all the streets in the town where live. That made the asphalt miles way more interesting.
What PATH projects gear have you been using on your training / racing / adventures and how does this gear work for you?
I run in Graves PX shorts, I love the fabric feel, the placement of the pockets, and the durability of the shorts.
In cooler weather as well as under sun exposure I also like wearing my light grey Pyrenees hoodie. The fabric is comfortable and while it keeps me warm when it is cold, it doesn’t feel hot when I wear it in the sun.
In just about every training run I wear one of my many Badlands caps, I love the fit!
When I’m on the plane to or from an adventure I’m probably wearing my Killam PX pants. I love those pants, and the new blue color looks amazing.
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