Photo: @ryanthrower

By Adam Merry

Training, fueling, and racing to earn a Western States Golden Ticket.

Adam Merry’s goal for 2023 was to qualify for Western States 100.

With a spectacular second place at Canyons – a Western States qualifier – Adam stamped that to-do item with an emphatic checkmark.

He’ll be the first to tell you that a high result is never as easy as showing up and performing. Instead, preparation for any start line, “A” race, or big goal involves myriad other lines, races, and sub-goals – dedicated endurance training really is less of an event and more of a complete way of living.

Adam’s path to Western States proves the point. He’s written a blog post that explores his daily nutrition, supplement, and training regimen leading up to his qualifying performance at The Canyons, while also discussing how other races and events helped him dial his approach.

Through The Canyons to Western States

The Canyons 100k has been an iconic race for years in the trail running world. Sharing some of the famous Western States 100 trail and known for its steep climbs and hot canyons, it has attracted many of the sport’s greatest runners over the years. This year, that was more true than ever.

In addition to being a Western States Golden Ticket race, the 2023 edition of Canyons was also the UTMB World Series North American Major Final. So the field of competitive athletes vying for either a Golden Ticket to Western States (awarded to the top two male and female finishers) or a spot in the UTMB CCC  (awarded to the top 10 male and female finishers) was freaking DEEP!

The Canyons’ field can typically be described as “deep.” This year, it was better described as “bottomless.” (@ryanthrower)

Ticket to Run

Deep field or not, I’ve been hunting a Golden Ticket for a few years, and after having just won the competitive Chuckanut 50k race about six weeks earlier, I was riding a wave of confidence and excellent training heading into Canyons.

Ultimately, having injury-free training, an air-tight and calm mentality, and a dialed nutrition strategy on race day allowed me to work my way up through the field and cross the finish line in 2nd place, earning me both a Golden Ticket to this year’s Western States in June and entry to the UTMB CCC in August.

In this post, I’ll walk you through my approach to training for this event and how my my race day strategies allowed me to outlast and outperform others in the heat. I’ll also highlight some key takeaways for any athlete looking to aim for a lofty goal!

🎶He’s got a golden ticket.🎶 (@kevinlaraphoto)

Setting Myself up for Success in Training

The biggest thing I always focus on in training is taking care of my foundation. Whether that’s my musculoskeletal system, aerobic system, mental motivation, or otherwise, I always do the maintenance throughout a training cycle to make sure these systems are not chronically overstressed. For me, First Endurance MultiV and OptygenHP are key pillars to this equation. 

MultiV keeps my body and energy levels feeling good. I have had periodic bloodwork done and, with MultiV in the mix, I am never concerned about key levels (iron, vitamins D, B12, etc.) being deficient.

I also take OptygenHP daily, because it provides such an amazing benefit in training. I find that I can hit workouts more controlled and climb more efficiently when I have been consistently taking OptygenHP. (I also find that many pro athletes I speak with use it but don’t want to talk about it – probably because of sponsor obligations.) It’s a little pricey, but for those looking to maximize training gains, I honestly believe OptygenHP is worth it if you respond well to it.

I also always follow runs of over 30 minutes with half a serving of Ultragen, which is a big part of my recovery strategy.

I won’t go too much into the specific mechanics and workouts of my pre-Canyons training (you can dive deep on my Strava if you’re interested – 99.9% of it is on there). But, at a high level, I trained pretty high volume, did multiple stressful workouts in a week, and had no issues with injuries or setbacks in training.

The Course

The Canyons “100k” actually ended up being a little over 65 miles (~105km) with over 10,000ft of vertical gain. The course is punctuated by seven distinct climbs with many short and runnable ascents on flowing singletrack terrain.

Many areas of the course were exposed, and we knew by 9:00 a.m. it would be approaching 80 degrees. Because the course is relatively very runnable, I thought there would be many racers that might run a little too hard early and not take care of themselves enough to prevent cramping and slowing-pace later in the race. This ended up being how things played out between miles 40-50, but I’ll get to that later. 🙂

A cursory glance at The Canyons’ course profile tells you there’s not much creativity behind the event’s name.

Race Nutrition Strategy

Golden Tickets are notoriously elusive and one of the biggest challenges at Canyons would be managing the heat on race day, which kept creeping up toward 90 degrees in the days leading up to the event. 

I had success at Chuckanut 50k in March, keeping a full-strength serving of EFS-PRO Lemon Lime in each of the three 500ml soft flask bottles I consumed during the race. I was really stoked with how focused I felt and how I was able to perform over the final 10km of that race to secure the win.

Adam’s Chuckanut 50k race analysis.

As a salty sweater, I believe that the massive electrolyte package EFS-PRO delivers – combined with the carbs, Suntheanine, and PharmaGABA – allowed me to perform and push all the way to the finish line. The Chuckanut result and my experience incorporating the hydration mix into my weekly training activities gave me confidence that EFS-PRO would be a key component for me at Canyons to allow me to perform when it got hot.

I roughly planned to consume two 500ml bottles per hour, each with 3 scoops of EFS-PRO. Personally, I like to switch between Lemon Lime and Sour Watermelon on hot days!

I also planned to supplement this with Liquid Shots as well as other gels as-needed during the day (roughly 1-2 per hour). So all told I was setting up for roughly 300-350 cals and 90g/CHO per hour. 

How it Actually Went Down

Despite best laid plans, in ultra-marathon racing, there are always some aspects you can’t control and mid-race puzzles you need to solve! For me, my fueling had gone well and according to plan all day – until I got to mile 48.

Between miles 44-48 I had moved up from 6th to 3rd place and knew I had a solid lead on 4th but needed to keep pushing. My crew was dialed and got me refueled and back out on trail at the mile 48 aid station in under two minutes. However, in the commotion of the aid station and the excitement of the moment, they forgot to give me my supplemental gels. I realized this about 200 yards down the trail and I had to make a split second decision: Should I turn around and give up time to get the gels or keep going?

Luckily for me, and being 100% honest with what I’m about to say, I was so confident in the electrolytes, calories, and taste of EFS-PRO for the remaining 17 miles in the hottest part of the day that the decision was easy, I just kept pressing forward. I had 1 or 2 leftover gels which was all I used between 48 and the finish in addition to EFS-PRO in my bottles. Shortly after making this decision, I moved into 2nd place (Golden Ticket position).

I didn’t cramp, felt solid and strong and was able to stay focused and alert and push all the way to the finish line. When I heard 3rd place was closing the gap behind me, I still had the energy to increase my gap by two minutes in the final 1.5 miles.

I say all of that to say this: I seriously believe that EFS-PRO for hot, extended racing in the heat is second to none. And by having this as the foundation of your fueling strategy you have a much larger buffer to account for any mid-race mishaps or mistakes. 

The best handshakes happen when you’re spent, seated, and celebrating. (@ryanthrower)

General Takeaways

As I hope is clear from this article, my approach revolves around preparation, cultivating a positive mindset, and going with the flow on race day. I find that the belief and confidence in my fitness and abilities in myself usually stems from an authentic conviction that I’ve done the work in training and I’ve put together a solid and tested plan for how I’ll handle the challenges of race day.

Here’s some advice I’d give to anyone at any level looking to achieve an ambitious goal:

  • Believe in yourself and surround yourself with people who truly believe you’re capable of what you think you are (and hopefully help stretch those limits!)
  • Train for the demands of your event
  • Use at least 75% of the runs you go on to practice fueling
    • Use the same types of fuel you’ll use on race day so there are no surprises (for me that means using EFS-PRO several times a week from easy runs to workouts to long runs)
  • Test your sweat sodium concentration, or at least determine roughly how salty a sweater you may be
    • This can really help give you an understanding of the ballpark of electrolytes you should be shooting for per hour (especially in hot conditions)
    • If you’re a salty sweater like me, don’t shy away from EFS/EFS-PRO AND supplementing with Liquid Shot gels as needed (they also have electrolytes)
  • Drink recovery mix after your runs, ideally Ultragen
  • Take a multivitamin (I love MultiV)
  • If you’re looking to get the most out of your workouts and higher intensity sessions, take Optygen or OptygenHP
  • Write down your race day plan, share it with your crew and thank the hell out of them!
  • Figure out a pre-race meal that works for you, test it and stick to it (even if your friends are doing something else!)
    • For me, it’s wood fired pizza, in the hotel room, with the box on my chest as I watch Netflix with my feet up!
  • Smile and put out good vibes when you’re out on the race course
May 18, 2023 — First Endurance
Tags: news

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