Ultra and Trail Lessons Learned By Kyle Whalum
KREW member Kyle Whalum has completed 6 ultra races of 100 miles. Recently he hit his toughest spot ever in a race at the Stagecoach to Grand 100 in Arizona. He wanted to drop so bad, yet he still found a way to finish the race strong.
We sat down with Kyle to discuss:
- His WHY to run big ultra races.
- How he overcomes his biggest challenges
- Mistakes many athletes make in races.
- Advice for runners to improve.
PATH: What are some of your favorite ultra races you have done and why?
Kyle: Early on I really enjoyed big mountain ultras like Pine To Palm 100 in Oregon. Once I moved back to Los Angeles from Nashville–which is hilly but not mountainous–I found that I got my fill of vert from just exploring the local peaks; so I started to favor more “runnable” 100 milers like Pinhoti 100 in Alabama, and Coldwater 100 in Arizona. The latter two are probably my favorite because I was able to really run for most of the race, finally going sub-24hr at Coldwater last year.
PATH: What is your why to running ultra races?
Kyle: Initially when I got into Ultrarunning it was just the thrill of testing what my body could do and how far I could go. Later on, when I started to run hundred milers, my “why” began to shift into more of a “dedication” or “spirit quest” kind of mentality.
For example: my first 100 was a few weeks before my wedding. My 2nd, a few weeks before the birth of my 1st child. I’ve run hundreds a few weeks or days in advance of the birth of my 2nd child, getting a huge gig like Kelly Clarkson or Katy Perry, moving back to LA, and most recently a few days before closing on our first home. Its kind of become a way of “praying” for me.
PATH: What has been your most challenging ultra so far and why? Please describe one of the toughest spots and how you overcame this?
Kyle: My most recent 100 by far! Stagecoach to Grand 100 in AZ. The most pressing problem was metatarsal pain on the underside of all 10 metatarsals starting at about mile 13. There were many other issues such as running solo with no crew or pacer (something that usually doesn’t bother me but it was compounded by the tremendous pain I was in), gear malfunctions, and a race that looked “easy” on paper but ended up seeing like a 40% finisher rate (rocky terrain, mostly uphill etc.). But the foot pain was the main reason I started trying to drop at mile 67. I tried to drop for the next 21 miles but I was either told it was a bad place to drop logistically, or encouraged to (reluctantly) shuffle at least to the next aid station.
By the time I got to mile 88 I was still planning on dropping due to the pain, but the aid volunteers looked at me as I broke down sobbing and said: you’re clearly in a lot of pain, but the reality is you’re at mile 88 out of 100. Why don’t you hike the next 2 miles out and if you still want to drop; hike back and we’ll drive you to the finish.” I said, through tears, “I don’t want to hike four more miles just to drop!” “EXACTLY!” She said. “Deep down you don’t want to drop, and I’m not going to let you. You can do this!” I get emotional just writing about it.
PATH: What is one mistake you feel many athletes make when it comes to ultra endurance events?
Kyle: By far the most common mistake I see is starting at an unrealistically fast pace. I see it at the start of every ultra, and I’m even susceptible to it myself if I’m not careful. It takes a lot of hard-earned wisdom to purposefully slow down and realize you won’t even remember the first 3rd of the race. Especially in a hundred miler. Your primary goal is to make it to about 60% of the way into the race feeling like you want to pick up the pace and start moving up the field while you sweep up all of the folks that blew up. Truly the tortoise and the hare technique.
PATH: Do you have any advice for runners looking to improve their trail / ultra running experiences?
Kyle: I highly recommend for most non-elite runners to employ the 30% rule for racing, especially the longer stuff: Run the first 30% at a very controlled and efficient pace. Don’t run any big hills, don’t push the pace to pass or race anyone just yet, watch the heart rate and try to stay in the “yellow” zone for this first 30%. What this does is put kind of a “governor” on your muscles, lungs, and heart.
By the time you are 30% in, you can begin to run more on feel and do some light hill running and occasional passing. You won’t have to worry as much about holding back because the calm running you’ve done at this point (between 11-30 miles depending on the race distance) has rendered you not only nice and warmed up; but muscles slightly tight and just enough fatigue to ensure you probably won’t truly overdo it going forward. By the time you’re 60% in; you should be fresh enough (relatively speaking) to really start running more at a competitive pace and moving up the field, finishing strong.
PATH: What PATH projects gear have you been using on your training / racing / adventures and how does this gear work for you?
Kyle: I love my Backbone PX shorts and Crest PX shorts for training and racing! The big zippered pockets are great for storing empty nutrition packets and anything else you need to just get out of your hands during a race, and transition well for post-race or run hangs or errands.
Also been loving my Andes tanks during the summer months. Truly unrivaled breathability.