Wednesday, June 20, 2012
Cork Runner to Compete In Western States 100 Ultra Next Weekend
Guest Article by Martin Leahy......The following piece was written by local runner Martin Leahy about Ultra-Runner Padraig Mullins as he prepares for the Western States 100 Mile race in California next weekend.
With the growth of longer-distance races in Portumna, Connemara, Wicklow and the like, Irish runners have recently enjoyed access to some top-quality ultra-running events. However, the U.S. triumvirate of Badwater, Leadville and the fabled Western States 100 continue to draw the world’s top long-distance runners to their all-challenging terrains.
We recently caught up with Corkman Padraig Mullins as he completed his preparations for the Western States 100, due to take place this weekend across the mountains of Northern California from Squaw Valley to the town of Auburn. The fabled race dates back to the mid-seventies when a number of runners began to participate in what up to then had been an annual trail ride on horseback. From these obscure beginnings it has blossomed into a world-famous ultra-marathon with strict entry qualifications (only 419 runners were selected for this year’s event) and global iconic status. With long sections run in the wilderness at night, steep canyons to be traversed and deep rivers to be forded, this race is not for the faint-hearted. Runners must be prepared to contend with all types of weathers and temperatures ranging from minus 10 to plus 40 degrees Celsius. In fact it’s about as far from one of our routine local road races as you can imagine.
You’re originally from Cork Padraig, can you tell us a bit about your background?
I grew up in Rathpeacon and moved to Dublin Hill in my teens, playing hurling and football with Na Piarsaigh and soccer with Blarney, where I went to school. I moved to the U.S. in 2004 and am currently settled with my wife Luciana in Boston, where I work as an electrician
How did you get into running?
My father Tommy Mullins had run ten marathons during the 80’s marathon boom but I never considered running until Luciana came home one day in 2006 and announced that she had entered me in the Chicago Marathon! I trained a bit for that but never really got going properly until I secured an entry for the 2010 New York Marathon – that was an experience I definitely wanted to repeat.
And how did you make the progression into ultra running?
By accident really. While waiting for a flight one day in 2008, I picked up a random book about running – Dean Karnazes’ “Ultramarathon Man” from the airport shop. Up to that I’d never heard of any race beyond the 26.2 mile Marathon distance but I must admit, the book had me fascinated. Then Gabriel Helmlinger, a friend of mine and a great runner was doing a 24 hour race near where I live and I tagged along for support. I was instantly hooked – I stayed up there until midnight before reluctantly going home. In bed I lay awake for an hour totally amazed by the experience. Then I got up, put my clothes back on and went back out to the course to crew for him! As soon as registration opened for the 2011 race I signed up and took things from there – gradually going longer and longer in training and learning to run in all weathers and on all terrains
What races have you run in preparation for Western States 100?
My performance at the Stone Cat 50-miler in Ipswich, Massachussets in 2011 qualified me for the Western States 100. However, even though I got the standard I still had to go through the lottery they run to select the actual race participants – I finally got word in December 2011. After that I did a couple of 32-mile trail races - the Fells Equinox in December and the GAC in January before progressing to the Traprock 50 k in Connecticut in April. That was quite a weekend for me as I ran the Boston Marathon two days later in 34 degrees Celsius! Luckily I have built up good ability to run in the heat and I was able to run a 3:20 PB on a day when most runners were more concerned with avoiding the hospital than hitting their targets! The two events back-to-back were a reassuring sign and sure enough my good form carried into the Lake Waramaug 100k later in April. It’s the oldest 100k race in the U.S. and I managed to win it in 9:22. Then in May I did the Wapack and Back 50-miler and the Pinelands 50-miler up in Maine – the last one recording an 8:11 PB. Times in ultra running vary wildly depending on the terrain – especially over the trails so it’s difficult to compare times unless they are all run on the same course on the same day!
That’s quite a string of performances. What sort of training miles have you been covering?
Most weeks I’ve covered well over 60 miles and during my 4-week peak training period in May I was typically covering 110 to 115 miles per week
Looking ahead to The Western States 100, the course looks extremely daunting with some phenomenal climbs and descents in the 100, not to mention the dangers of bears and rattlesnakes! What are your goals for the event?
Well as ever, the primary target is to finish the race – I haven’t attempted anything this tough before. Sure, I’ve run a 24-hour race but not over this type of terrain. Not many people can claim to have nailed the WS100. However, I do have my heart set on finishing in under 24 hours and getting the coveted Silver belt buckle
24 hours is a long time to be out on the trail. You’re going to have to consume an awful lot of calories during that time. What is your nutrition strategy?
For a lot of my training runs and previous races I’ve been using Chocolate Ensure, a chocolate nutrition drink that really packs the calories – it’s easy to keep down too. I’ll have a bottle of it in each drop bag along the way and my crew will be well stocked with it. The plan is to take in approximately 400 calories every hour. I’ll also be looking to take in salts – I’ve found crisps and potatoes dipped in salt to be very effective. Then, further along I’ll be taking on a lot of chicken soup and Coke to keep me rolling. For hydration, I’ll carry a hand-held bottle as far as Robinson Flat where I’ll pick up a race belt with water and Gatorade to vary the hydration. Obviously I’ll also be regularly taking the S-caps to keep the Sodium and Potassium levels at an optimum
What parts of the course will present the biggest challenge?
Never having been on the course, it sometimes feels like the whole thing will be a challenge! However, the climbs into and out of the canyons are critical – specifically at Devils’ Thumb, Michigan Bluff and Volcano Canyon – these are the make or break sections I think. To be honest I’ve done a lot of planning and preparing. I have the spare bedroom turned into a racing headquarters, maps, runners and clothes for the day laid out, water bottles, plasters, Vaseline and everything else I can think of that I'll need. What did our Roy say again 'Fail to prepare, prepare to fail'. That can't happen here
Finally, will you have company on the course?
I’ll obviously meet and lean on my crew at many and various points along the way – and Luciana will run the last 20 miles with me. Other than that I will spend a lot of the time operating alone. There will be stretches where I’ll run with some of the other competitors but depending on form we will no doubt drift apart and come together at odd intervals
You can follow Padraig’s progress on the WS100 website (www.WS100.com). The race kicks off at 5am local time (1pm in Ireland) on Saturday June 23rd.