Tell us about your running background.
I was NEVER a runner. I was an accomplished fast-pitch softball pitcher in High School and college and I also played soccer. I got injured in college and my pitching career was over. I didn’t realize how much I missed playing sports on a competitive level until I discovered running.
I started running in 2009. I was working an event in New York City and my friend Ben Sturner told me about the 5K Revlon Run Walk. He was running it and convinced me to sign up. I showed up early the next morning and ran my first race. I was totally winded and found it difficult but I enjoyed the rush of the crowd and the feel of victory crossing the finish line. It was exhilarating.
Training and running my first marathon was a life changing experience. I was now hooked and wanted to do better. I signed up for New York City marathon and fundraised for UNICEF but unfortunately once again was injured going into the race. I ended up having a very painful race with hamstring and IT issues and blisters but I finished. I was back in physical therapy for a third time.
A lot of my friends and family members told me to stop running. They said I wasn’t built for running and I was going to seriously injure myself. I was surrounded by so much concern and negative comments it’s amazing I was even able to empower myself to continue to run.
I went to sleep the night of NYC Marathon thinking I would never run a marathon again. My friend begged me to stop as she helped her crippled friend into a bath of Epsom salts. I woke up in the morning with a fresh outlook and decided I was going to run a marathon uninjured. That was my new goal and I signed up for the Chicago Marathon. I crossed the finish line pain-free in 2012 with a smile as big as my love for the sport.
Most people think running a marathon is enough of a goal. What made you decide to become an Ultra runner and run a 50 mile race? How did you pick the San Diego 50 mile race?
I like to live a life doing extraordinary things and I will always push past the point of comfort. I’m a driven person and don’t like to stay idle and always like to set new goals. For me it works. Some people are born with natural talent but I was never that lucky. I have to work very hard at everything. I strongly believe if you want to do something you can do it. Don’t listen to others who say you can’t. The only thing you need is the desire to keep going.
Another life changing moment for me was when I joined Team in Training Ultra team in Los Angeles last year. I had NEVER run on a trail before and the thought scared me and excited me. I have a fear of heights and battle it constantly whenever I’m on a mountain but it’s not enough to prevent me from doing what I love. Sometimes I’m embarrassed by my anxiety and I get angry with myself when I have a panic attack. I’m constantly working to overcome these issues.
My experience with TNT is something I will always cherish and one of my best decisions. I met some of my closest friends and found myself connected to people who had a similar mindset and we raised money for a good cause. We were all very driven people in our work and our love for running. Every weekend we would have a big trail run in the mountains all over Southern California. It was new and exciting and there was so much to learn. There was also a slight chance of danger and for some reason the fear of rattlesnakes, steep ledges and mountain lions excited me.
The ultra running community is one of the most special groups of people I’ve ever encountered. I’ve worked with major sports and professional athletes all my life and it’s rare you see such a gracious community of athletes and supporters. Maybe it’s because we are all a little nuts and we respect that within each other. Where else can you start a race with professional runners and have them pass you
during the course and say hello.
I decided to do a 50 mile race because I’m surrounded by a lot of people who have done that distance and further. For me it sounded impossible and made me want it even more. I wanted to see if I was capable of doing something that was so unfathomable to me and I was excited about training for one of the most epic races and days of my lifetime. When I was on TNT most of my teammates did the 50 mile race and I felt a little less superior only running 31 miles. Crazy, I know but this is how we think.
I had heard the San Diego 50 Mile course was mostly flat and this is rare in trail running and was a good first 50 mile race. This was a good thing but can also be seen as a bad thing. We are usually running at high altitudes and steep terrain and it forces you to power hike. This is sometimes strenuous but also a break from the pounding on your legs. The San Diego 50 had a lot of runnable trail and this meant you had very little breaks and were always running. This can be even more exhausting.
How did you train for the race? What was the hardest part about training? What was the easiest?
I ran my first Leona Divide 50 K (32 miles) race in April 2014 and my second in October 2014. I knew I was finally ready to test out training for a 50 mile race. I was also in my second season of the Dirt Divas ultra team coached by Keira Henninger. We always had a treacherous training run on the weekends.
My training consisted of a fairly loose schedule. I knew I needed to get in a couple of 28-31 mile runs followed by a 10 mile run. When you train for a 50 mile race the most you run in a day is 31 miles. Crazy to think you can run a 50 mile race by only running 31 miles one day and then 10 miles the next but it works. It’s also really important to taper 3-4 weeks before the race.
It’s really pertinent to keep up with a consistent training schedule and to get out on the trails for a long run on the weekend. You can get through a marathon with a little bit of training but you can’t fake a 50 mile race. It’s just too far and there’s a cut-off time limit.
There were three things I found extremely hard about training for a 50 mile race.
- Finding people who are on your schedule and pace to run the long miles. I was training with Keira Henninger’s Dirt Divas but they were all training for another race. Our schedules were off so I needed to find other people who would run with me during my long miles. The big difference between road miles and trail miles is the support. You can run a 28 mile run by the beach alone but it’s not recommended on the trails. You always need to run with someone for several reasons. The most important is safety and the second is morale.
- Back-to-back runs. These are hard and especially hard when you run 28 miles one day and wake-up sore the next day and need to run 10 miles. It’s crazy to think you can run a marathon one day and need to wake-up the next and go for a run.
- The fear of the cut-off times. It’s one thing to run 50 miles and another to do it in under 13 hours. You need to make sure you are at certain miles at a certain time or can be pulled off the course. This can be very stressful. I’m interested in running Mt. Hood 50 mile race in Oregon one day but I’m not sure I can finish the TOUGH altitude race in 12 hours.
The easiest part of training was getting into a rhythm. There were some things I did that really think helped make race day a success.
- I never went out on a Friday night and rare on Saturday nights. My social life took a nose dive, but for me it was worth it.
- Ice baths – they are a MUST. They really helped after long and tough Saturday miles and then having to run again the next day
- Vitamin B shots – Only recommended if you’re tested and have low levels of vitamin B. I started giving myself shots twice a week and they really helped with my soreness and gave me an extra boost. The only problem is they made my butt sore near the injection.
- I highly recommend doing a practice run on your race course. I was able to do this for the San Diego 50 race and it gave me confidence for race day. I knew what to expect.
When you taper going into a big race it’s a really strange time. Some people get depressed and others eat out of control. Both of these things happened with me. I didn’t have a good taper but I also knew this wasn’t uncommon.
By the time the race came I was so excited and ready to run. I had been mentally prepping for this day for months and now it was time to prove to myself I could do it. I had the support of my friends and loved ones and that’s all that mattered to me.
I did have some self-doubt but my support system was incredible. Over the past two years I’ve surrounded myself with some pretty inspirational people and can’t thank them enough. Any time I needed a confidence boost or I had any self-doubt, they were there.
Do you have a pre-race routine like listening to specific music or eating a certain meal the night before a race?
I have a few things I’ve learned from experience of what works for me when prepping for a race. I’ve learned the hard way to make sure to eat right. I always eat steamed or grilled salmon with white rice and some sort of potato. I can also eat eggs and sweet potatoes. It works for me and is easy on the stomach. I also like to line-up all my race gear the week leading into the race. This way I can prepare for all kinds of weather and have everything I need. I went into my first 50-mile race as if I prepped for the apocalypse but sometimes it’s better to be prepared than sorry. I also like to watch inspiring videos and listen to podcasts. I also tell myself no matter what happens to be kind to myself. I often beat myself up with my own thoughts. This is something I will need to work on for the rest of my life. I’ve started meditation and it teaches you to filter the thoughts you don’t need. No one needs Rocky Balboa blows of negative thoughts hitting you hard to take away from self-confidence.
I thought running in the dark would be the toughest part for me since I have never run in the dark on trails before but that was fairly easy. It was also peaceful. The toughest part was feeling soreness at mile 8. My mind went crazy.
What kept running through my head was how I was going to complete another 42 miles when I was already feeling pain at mile 8? Here’s the best advice I can give anyone and it worked for me. If you think about the race in its entirety, it may be too overwhelming. Instead, when I felt self-doubt early on I decided to break-up the race into quarters. I knew I needed to get past 13 miles and then I knew I had to get to 25 and be halfway done and reassess. Once I got past 25 miles it was only 5 more miles to my drop bag. After my drop bag it was only 5 more miles until I saw friends at the 35 mile aid station. Once I saw my friends I knew it was only 5 more miles until I saw them again at mile 40. Then at mile 40 I knew there were only 10 more miles to go and NOTHING was going to stop me from going 10 more miles.
I have one other tidbit of advice. Take something you love and hold it hostage until you reach a certain point in a race or big training run. I love eating bacon during a long trail run. I was only able to eat the bacon if I got past 31 miles. Sometimes it’s the little things that keep us going.
Tell us about nutrition. What did you eat along the way?
I finally nailed my nutrition. It has taken me a long time to figure things out. A little over a year ago I came down with some serious GI issues and I was no longer able to eat GU’s or anything artificial. One of the biggest things runners complain about is their gut during long races. It’s absolutely essential you get it right.
When you run a trail race the aid stations will have a table filled with a buffet of a runners dream. Sometimes you can find peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, soda, jelly beans, brownies, watermelon, oranges, cookies, pretzels, potato chips, boiled potatoes and more.
Here’s what worked for me.
CarboPro – is a powder and each scoop mixed with water will give you 100 calories and carbs to keep going. It’s very popular in the running and cycling community. You need calories so you don’t bonk on the trails and CarboPro has saved my life. I filled my 20 ounce water bottle with four scoops and knew I needed to finish a quarter of the bottle every hour. Then after four miles I would fill it again. Don’t fear calories when you’re running. You need them.
PocketFuel – I eat the almond butter and the Pocket Fuel Cold Brew Coffee shots. They are easy to fit in a pack and give you that quick punch you need. I had one Cold Brew during the race.
Skratch labs – I just started using for my electrolytes and love this company. It was a hot day on the trails and you need to make sure to drink more than water.
Salt – For me the salt pills upset my stomach so I just open up a packet of salt and dissolve it on my tongue with water. I will take one salt pack every hour. This really helps prevent cramping and keeps me hydrated.
Potatoes – I bake my own potatoes and take them on runs. All you need to do is cut them into small pieces and throw into a plastic bag with olive oil and salt. Shake the contents and then spread out on a baking sheet and cook at 400 degrees for 45 minutes or until lightly brown.
Bacon – only a little and after mile 31 as a special treat
Nelly’s Energy Bars – I will sometimes eat these on a cooler day and they are one of few bars that don’t hurt my stomach and they taste delicious. They are made with some really great ingredients and are a local company. You can find them at Whole Foods or on their website.
I also had small squares of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and drank small sips of Coca-Cola after 30 miles. Nothing tastes better than cold Coke on a hot day during a race and you need the caffeine.
What was your most memorable moment?
There were many memorable moments during the 12.5 hour run but the top two were the start and finish. I started the race with my friend Lisa and we were running along farm land and dogs were barking and roosters started to crow in the early morning. My headlamp was glowing and it was the first time I had run on the trails in the dark. The moment was finally here and my goal was to have the best time no matter what happened. I was able to get to the start line uninjured and feeling good and nothing was going to get in the way of me and the finish.
The other highlight of the day was having friends cheer me on during the later aid stations. I felt so much love and support from other runner friends it brought me to tears. I was nearing mile 48 of the race and knew I was going to finish. I heard Lisa call out my name. She had gotten lost and ran .5 miles off the course. We were now partnered up and going to finish the race together. As we approached the last mile we had two friends in the dark jump out from a bench and surprise us. They had driven up from Los Angeles to cheer us to the finish and the support from Rena and Silvia was unstoppable. I was overwhelmed with emotion and they propped me up as we crossed the finish line together. It will always be one of the most memorable moments of my life and to share it with them meant the world to me.
Crossing the finish line must have been an amazing emotional moment. What was it like?
Anyone who knows me and follows my blog www.unusualtrekker.blogspot.com knows I’ve had a difficult past two years and have hinted about some things. The 50-mile race was so much more than running 50 miles. It was about self-empowerment and overcoming heartbreak and distrust from mentors and friends. For me crossing that finish line meant everything. I succeeded in my vision and training and did something I will never take for granted.
Post race recovery after a 50 miler must be interesting. What did you do? How long did it take you to recover and how soon did you run again after the 50 miler?
I had a VERY painful recovery. Remember, I’m someone who gets hurt and sore easily but I’m also someone who has run big races pain-free. I knew 50 miles was going to hurt but was also confident knowing some people only hurt for a couple of days.
When I got back to my hotel I was barely walking. I immediately got into an ice bath and had a good dinner. It was difficult to sleep that night and my mind was still running. The next day I forced myself to move around. That’s the most important thing to do and to stretch. I also continued to ice the parts that hurt the most.
I waited a few days before getting a massage and one week later I was feeling a lot of relief. I knew it was too soon to run and did some training on the elliptical and stationary bike.
It took a month for me to slowly get back into running but in March I ran the LA Marathon and then Griffith Park Marathon and April 18, 2015 (this past weekend) I ran the Leona Divide 50K again which was my first 50K last year.
What advice do you have for a runner who wants to step into the world of ultra running?
Get excited because stepping into the world of ultra running will change your life for the better. You get to run with the sounds and smells of mother nature all around you and will be able to test your physical limits past points you never imagined possible.
See if you can find a Facebook group or people on twitter who trail run. Follow professional ultra runners on social media to get good tips on what to do during certain scenarios. See if you can find a team or group who goes for trail runs in your neighborhood. Look into Team in Training to see if they have an ultra team near you. Talk to people at run shops and at smaller races. You will be amazed at how many people are interested in trail running but just didn’t know how to get started. And lastly, shoot me an email or a shout out on Twitter at @heatherkrug I’m always up for a run and will go with anyone. Unless you’re super fast and then you will need to wait for me.
It’s important to just go out there and give it a try. It doesn’t matter your age or size. There are several women on my team who are grandmothers and some even big in stature. All you need is the desire and willingness to learn. I’m blown away by my teammates and my coach Keira Henninger on a regular basis. Most of us are fairly new to the sport. It’s not easy because if it was then everyone would do it. It takes some time to get into a groove but once you experience running on some of the most beautiful places you will no doubt be changed forever.
What about you? Do you have any questions for Heather? Would you ever run an ultramarathon? Post in the comments and let us know!