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2017 Racer Profiles – Shelli Sexton

2017 Racer Profiles – Shelli Sexton

Meet Shelli Sexton 

Nervous Excitement

 

Hailing from southern California, Shelli Sexton is one half of the Shelli/Rachael machine, a pair of friends who’ve been running together for 10 years.  They plan to complete TPU together, as they have many other races.

The two have spent that certain kind of earthy, uninhibited time together that happens when you run ultras with another person.  They’ve shared R2R2R Grand Canyon, the San Diego 100 and the Coastal Challenge, considered to be one of the sport’s most difficult stage races.

Rachael and Shelli

Shelli is a commercial broker in Riverside, California.  She first heard about TPU in UltraRunning magazine.  It captured her imagination and she couldn’t stop thinking about it… and talking about it to her running buddy, Rachael. They decided to make the leap, and both signed up for TPU 2017.

Shelli has banked some impressive mileage and races, but then battled injuries that kept her off the trails for the better part of six years.  She saw TPU as the gateway to a renewed life of running, an exciting goal that would get her climbing once again up the training ladder.

Unfortunately she was plagued by illness for several months, and unable to complete all the training she’d planned.  Colds, flu, infection… you name it, she’s had it.  Now, close to the starting line of TPU, Shelli reports being quite nervous, even with her long running career.

It’s like that scary dream many of us have, in which we have a big test, and have been skipping class all semester.  But accompanied by friend Rachael, a hefty load of ultra experience, and the courage to take on the unknown, Shelli will arrive in just a few days to begin TPU.

She will be welcomed by an enthusiastic and helpful TPU tribe of staff, volunteers and well-wishers.  We predict that the extreme beauty of the Big Bend Ranch landscape, the starry, starry nights in camp, and the companionship of other passionate runners, will give Shelli the experience of a lifetime and a re-ignition of her running fire, bigger and brighter than ever.

Be sure to “Like” us on Facebook to get race updates as Shelli burns up the trails of Big Bend Ranch next week.

 

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2017 Racer Profiles – Julie Burges

2017 Racer Profiles – Julie Burges

Meet Julie Burges 

“More Stress, Please”

 

Julie Burges had been looking online at stage races from her home in Auburn, California, when coincidentally, REI announced a community program featuring TPU Race Director Chris Herrera.  She went to hear his pitch, and that very night, signed up for TPU 2017. It was the perfect fit.

Julie holds a fairly high-stress job at the University of California Davis Veterinary School.  She has found that stress actually helps motivate her to do great things.  So she’s trading the stress of hospital administration for the much friendlier stress of running a marathon-a-day (crowned by a 56-miler at the end of the week) in the wild, high desert of west Texas.

“I hope a week in the wilderness, with great people who share the same passion for adventure and running, will help me find a Zen moment.  Even if it’s just for a moment.” says Julie.

Julie lives with a physical condition that makes it essential to minimize stress to her body.  When she first began running, her doctor recommended runs of no more than 3 miles.  She found that though the short runs kept the physical stress down, they did nothing for her mental stress.  And so an ultra runner was born.

Since then, Julie has become an experienced trail runner in Auburn, a town popularly known as the “endurance capital of the world.” Julie has been working on the challenge of back-to-back long runs in preparation for TPU.

To accustom herself to running with a week’s worth of supplies on her back, she’s been training with a weighted vest.  Weighted vests are widely used in CrossFit, resistance training and cardiovascular programs, but in preparation for TPU, they have the primary purpose of getting the runner accustomed to carrying a self-supporting pack.

At TPU, racers carry everything they need for the week, including food and sleeping bag.  Nothing is schlepped for them except water, and that is all part of ethic of self-sufficiency on the trail.  One of the jigsaw puzzles inherent in such a race is planning how to carry the most of what you need at the least weight.  Past runners have gotten their packs down to approximately 18 pounds, which is an engineering marvel.

Smart packing necessarily involves dehydrated meals, a feature Julie is not particularly looking forward to.  However, each afternoon, the TPU camp manager has the kettle boiling for runners as they complete the day’s miles, and the camaraderie over reconstituted lasagna and beef stroganoff can be surprisingly satisfying.

Julie has developed her mental toughness in past relay-format races that extend through the nights and for several consecutive days.  She’s been training with back-to-back long runs, some in the gorgeous environs of the back country Sierras.

It’s hard to beat the conditions of California’s Sierras for running, but Big Bend Ranch may just do it.  The high desert affords just those silent, solitary, existential Ground Zero, I-can-hear-my-heart-beating types of moments that may give Julie the Zen experience she’s looking for.

Best of luck, California Girl!

 

“Like” us on Facebook to keep up with Julie as she pounds down the trails of Big Bend Ranch next week. And watch for her flag patches.  She’ll be running with insignia her military buddies have given her from all over the world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Food for Self-Supported Stage Race

Food, glorious food!

A conversation with TPU veterans Cheryl Tulkoff and Thomas Mullins

The heaviest, bulkiest and most important item in your pack in a self-supported stage race like TPU is your food.  You’ll be fully loaded on Day One, and you’ll whittle it down as the week goes on, but planning is essential.  You don’t want to be overloaded when you start, and you also don’t want to be foraging on the native plant life by Day Five.

 

Several factors to consider:

 

  • Calories, or how much energy is in each food item
  • Its weight
  • Its protein content
  • Its ability to put a smile on your face (not to be underestimated)

 

Some TPU veterans describe their nutrition plan as a “controlled starve” because the calories needed to be extremely active for many hours per day over seven days is more than you really want to carry on your back.

 

The Math: Roughly, the average number of calories per ounce of popular trail foods is about 100.  Let’s say you burn 80 calories a mile, on average, at a walk/run pace (more if you’re male and more if you run more than you walk).  TPU courses are about 26 miles per day, which means you need about 2100 calories in addition to your basal metabolism burn for the day… so 3600-5000 calories per day.  That works out to carrying 2-3 pounds of food, per day, or 14-21 pounds of food for the week. With water, sleeping bag, pack and food, you’d be looking at carrying 22-27 pounds starting out the week, which is a lot of weight riding on your back.

 

So let’s just say you may lose a few pounds over the course of TPU. Now what’s your best strategy?

 

TPU race regulations require you to begin the week with a minimum of 14,000 calories (2000 per day). 2015 TPU female winner Cheryl Tulkoff began her week with 8 pounds of food (14,275 calories), approximately the same weight as all her other gear put together. Cheryl is a 110-pound female so she was carrying the low end of the calorie scale.

 

2015 TPU overall winner Thomas Mullins estimates that 80% of his starting pack weight was nutrition and the pack was well over 20 pounds. He opted for the high side of calories based on his own running experiences.  While his pack was heavier than most, he took comfort in knowing that it would become lighter with each passing day as he consumed the nutrition. And he won the race, so that’s a vote for going with your instincts and personal experience.

 

At the least, plan to get the most bang for your buck, the most calories for the weight. Check the nutrition labels on the food you propose to pack and compute its calories-per-ounce. You’ll no doubt include some foods that are lower calories-per-ounce just because they work for you, but you’ll want to maximize calories to the extent possible.

 

Here are some examples:

 

Calories per ounce of popular trail foods
 

CLIF Pizza Margherita Organic Trail Food

38
Vita Classic Nova Smoked Salmon 50
Dried Apricots 69
GU Roctane Vanilla Orange Energy Gel 91
Vega Protein & Greens Vanilla Shake (20 g protein) 104
Quaker Instant Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal 105
ProBar Meal Replacement Koka-Moka 123
Mountain House freeze-dried Beef Stroganoff 129
Jack Link’s Small Batch Bacon Jerky 130
CLIF Nut-Butter Filled Chocolate Peanut Butter bar 131
Cashews, raw 155
ProBar Sriracha Peanut Butter pouch 157

 

 

There is something to be said for having a “luxury” food in your back-pantry.  After a long day on the trail, it can be a sweet reward that perks you up nicely. Thomas says his “luxury” food of smoked salmon was worth every ounce of extra weight. He consumed it at strategic points during the week, and it had many nutritional benefits as well as being a special treat.

 

 

One of Cheryl’s staple foods was the ProBar.  Meal replacement ProBars score high on the calorie-per-ounce scale and are vegan, gluten-free and multi-flavored.  A Koka-Moka or Superfruit Slam might very well satisfy the craving for a “luxury” food while delivering clean calories, fiber and protein.

 

 

ProBar and Justin’s both make nut butters in small-serving packs (1.15 oz) that are perfect for trail use, about the size of a GU pack.  With a variety of flavors, these make good luxury foods, too: coconut almond caffeine or sriracha peanut butter, for example. Tulkoff recommends packing something with a little kick if you are accustomed to spicy food.  Freeze-dried or processed foods can begin to seem excessively bland over the course of a week.

 

Tulkoff also highly advises a recovery shake option for your immediate post-run recovery period each afternoon.  As a vegan, she used VegaProtein&Greens, but strongly recommends you use whatever your stomach is used to.

 

Protein becomes critical on a long expedition like TPU, when you are on a minimal calorie diet with heavy exertion.  Protein is essential for healing the micro muscle tears of running, and for minimizing the breakdown of muscle mass that can cause kidney trouble in extreme athletes.  The American College of Sports Medicine recommends ½-1 gram of daily protein for every pound of body weight.  Thus a 110-pound woman needs between 55 and 110 grams of protein per day, and should err on the high side on days of hard exercise.   The more prolonged or intense the exercise, the more protein the body cannibalizes the working muscles for protein, and the more is needed for recovery.

 

Cheryl put VegaProtein powder and almonds in her morning oatmeal.  Combined with ProBars on the trail and a post-run protein recovery shake, she banked 75 grams of protein even before her evening meal.  Her success on the trail speaks highly for this regimen.

 

Both Cheryl and Thomas stress that runners should practice their nutrition before they start packing for TPU.  Everything you bring should have been thoroughly pre-tested on your runs.  Thomas encourages his runners to “do the math”… take the time to calculate your calorie burn for run and recovery, and use that as a baseline for the amount of food you pack. He encourages runners to use foods they are familiar with and have tested extensively.

 

Everything’s a trade-off when you are self-supporting on a long effort like TPU with your world on your back.  Plan your nutrition well, and you’ll have some cushion for a little luxury item. Cheryl’s luxury was five pairs of socks, one fresh pair for each day.  For Thomas, it was a full-length air mattress.

 

For further questions about nutrition, packs or registration, contact TPU Race Director Chris Herrera at 432-294-5284

Useful Links:

Vegan Options – https://myvega.com/vega-protein-and-greens

Customized Freeze-Dried Meals – https://www.packitgourmet.com/

Other Freeze Dried Meals – http://www.harmonyhousefoods.com

Trail Food and Equipment of All Kinds – https://www.rei.com/c/food

 

TPU 2017 Racer Profile – Jess Kolko

TPU 2017 Racer Profile – Jess Kolko

Meet Jess Kolko      

Seeking the Wilds of Texas

She’s on the final countdown to the 2017 Trans-Pecos Ultra.  A 4-time Ironman finisher, she’s nevertheless impressed with the gravitas of running self-supported in Big Bend.  When friends ask what she’s training for, she says that jaws drop at her answer. “It’s just hilarious to watch their faces when I tell them about TPU. I don’t think some people can even grasp the concept of a stage race, let alone a self-supported race in Big Bend Ranch State Park.”

Jess took advantage of TPU’s offer of free coaching upon early registration.  She’s had the benefit of Coach Cheryl Tulkoff’s counsel on training, gear, and packing.  Cheryl was the first female finisher in the inaugural 2015 TPU, and volunteered on the course in 2016.  Aside from the Race Director, Cheryl may have the most complete knowledge of the rigors and pleasures of this self-supported 163-mile behemoth.

Jess used Cheryl’s expertise to review equipment, advise on training and suggest packing strategies.  For TPU, racers carry all their gear for the week on their backs from the starting line to the finish, so clever planning is essential.

For months, Jess has had her gear ready and has just been focusing on training and nutrition.  Running with a weighted pack in the Texas heat and humidity has highlighted the problem of chafing, which she has solved with tape, as well as the challenge of staying properly fueled when the gut is stressed.

Jess reports that fueling may be her biggest challenge, in spite of the fact that she is a professional nutritionist for Whole Foods Markets.  Sometimes, far into a trail day, what she has available just doesn’t seem appealing any more, a problem most trail runners have encountered. But on a 7-day, 165-mile race, a runner can easily bonk on insufficient calories, so Jess has been practicing the fuel strategy diligently.

Her motivation? “I love being outside. I’ve lived in Texas for 10 years and haven’t been out to Big Bend, a place not many people get to see up close and personal. I want the chance to really disconnect from my day-to-day, and gain a stronger connection to the wilds of Texas.”

The wilds of Texas are waiting for you out at Big Bend Ranch.  Best of luck, Jess!

 

“Like” our Facebook page to get race updates during the week of TPU 2017!

 

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The Deal of a Lifetime: Register for TPU and get your own personal coach

The Deal of a Lifetime: Register for TPU and get your own personal coach

Author: Sheryl Collmer | Media Coordinator

 

As one of the first self-supported multi-day stage races in America, Trans-Pecos Ultra has sweetened the pot for 2017, offering free coaching from veteran stage runners with every registration. Few American runners have experience in this racing format but our coaches are all veterans of TPU.

Of the four coaches, Cheryl Tulkoff (Austin, Texas) is the only female, and the second-place finisher in the inaugural 2015 event. She is currently coaching three 2017 registered TPU runners.

Cheryl is a long-time ultra runner and a 3:15 Boston Marathon finisher. She has been certified as a personal trainer and in wilderness first aid, and has the added distinction of running long on a vegan diet.

Stage racing is far more accessible than people think, says Cheryl. For most people, it’s a series of run/hike intervals through the day, then a period of rest and recovery in the evening. Most fit hikers could do the TPU quite handily. Seven days sounds intimidating, but you are just hiking and running each day; no energy has to be spent on laundry, cooking, cleaning and paperwork… all those things that use up our extra energy at home.

Cheryl is advising her trainees to practice weighted running with their selected packs, alternated with power-hiking. She’s not a huge proponent of heavy mileage training for a multi-day event, though she does advise back-to-back long runs on the weekends. Rather than rack up too much extra volume in miles, though, she prefers using available time for strengthening the climbing muscles and ankles.

The average pack, with a day’s supply of water onboard, weighs around 20 pounds. That amount of weight significantly alters posture, stride and running mechanics. That’s why Cheryl advises logging lots of time on your feet wearing a loaded pack, whether running or hiking. Since speed isn’t the top priority for most people doing a stage race, Cheryl emphasizes training by time duration.

“…stage racing is an
eating and drinking contest.”

In addition to running/hiking strategies, Cheryl covers gear and nutrition with her trainees. Since the week’s food is usually the heaviest item in the runner’s pack, clever choices of food can make a huge difference to the runner’s stamina. For anyone with specialized nutrition needs, vegan Cheryl would have some tried-and-true strategies not easily found elsewhere.

In the end, Cheryl kids, “stage racing is an eating and drinking contest.”

Well… it might be a little more complex than that, but we get the idea. The ordinary mortal can complete a multi-day stage race, with a bit of attention to training and nutrition, the specialties of our TPU coaches.

Are you piqued? Find out more about the beautiful land of the Big Bend, multi-day stage racing and the unique opportunity to be coached into this spectacular race. Click here for more information on the TPU Coaching Program and the four coaches available or call race director Chris Herrera at 432.294.5284.

Note: The all-inclusive TPU Ultimate Big Bend Adventure has a registration ticket of $2,250. With a deposit of $500 to secure your spot, you receive a month of personalized coaching support. If you pay in full upon registration, you receive three months coaching.