Meet Ultrarunner Bree Lambert
On June 24, 48-year-old Bree Lambert will join 368 other runners in an endurance test that’ll involve steep climbs, a sleepless night and buckets of sweat.
The oldest 100-mile trail race in the world (well, technically it’s 100.2 miles–every tenth counts!), Western States in California invites runners every year to tackle the journey and finish by the 24- and 30-hour time cutoffs. Fun fact: Before the race existed, the trail was actually used as an endurance test for horses and riders. Shortly after founder Gordy Ainsleigh ran the trail for the first time in 1974, he decided to adapt the concept of completing 100 miles in 24 hours for runners. More than four decades later, the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run now attracts runners from around the world, testing their stamina between Squaw Valley and Auburn over paths that climb 18,000 feet and descend as much as 23,000 feet while temperatures fluctuate between below freezing and more than 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
When she takes her place at the starting line this Saturday, Lambert, who won USATF Female Masters Ultrarunner of the Year last year, will plan to finish in under 24 hours to earn her second silver finisher’s buckle (sub-30-hour finishers earn bronze buckles). She completed the race for her first time in 2013 with a final time of 23:26:49 and has been training for this year’s run since December. We asked Lambert to explain how her work as a coach and nutritionist helps her training and fueling plans for a monster race like Western States.
How did you train for this distance?
This will be my eighth 100-mile race. I typically do one a year. I always target a race and back up from there to give myself six months of quality training. I’ll typically run three or four ultramarathon races of shorter distances and use those as a buildup to the 100.
When I heard last year that I was going to run this race, I decided to start my training in late December. I targeted a 50K race in February, a 50-mile race in April and another 50K in May. I’m training in smaller blocks for those smaller races. By the time I get to this point, I’ve had consistency for training, racing and figuring out my fueling plan.
How do you fuel for a race like this?
There are so many variables. This will be the second time I’ve run this race, so that’s an advantage. The canyons are hot; I have about 32 miles of canyon running to do. Since [California’s] had so much heat lately, I’ve been able to do heat training. Doing things like that allow my body to acclimate.
You need to be physically trained to manage 100 miles, but the nutritional and mental aspects are more important. If you can’t supply your body with what it needs, you won’t be able to get to the finish line. I use Amino Vital. It helps with tissue repair, muscle breakdown and recovery. I use Action, the endurance formula, before and during the race. After, I use Rapid Recovery, which has more amino acids. Amino acids are especially important for endurance athletes. I stay with Amino Vital and water throughout the entire race. I’ll add some gels and maybe a bar or a nut butter and jelly wrap, adding more solid food after four hours. The first four to five hours are generally liquid and gels. After that, my body gets hungry. Then it’s appropriate to give it more solids.
When you start to implode mentally, which happens with distance races, those are the moments when you have to dig deep. You’ve got to be able to suffer better than anyone else out there. The mantra of my business is Live Well, Finish Strong. When I get into that mindset, I think, “I can do this,” because I’ve been through so much in my life.
Do you run constantly during longer races?
This race is considered a runnable 100. You do need to take walking breaks. There’s a spot called “Devils Thumb” in the canyon section. It’s not long, but it’s deep. It’s one of those areas where you can take a break. I think it’s important to change the muscles you’re using during these events. You don’t want to wear down one particular muscle group.
How do you balance training and racing with family and work?
I believe in quality training, not quantity. There’s a misconception that ultrarunners need to put in 100-mile weeks. I disagree. I think you can be a high performing ultrarunner with a good 70 to 80 miles per week schedule. I also believe in phases of training. It’s important to maintain balance so that you’re not overdoing it.
It’s also important to take a realistic approach about what other things you have in your life. If I know I have a race coming up, I make sure I have time for quality training–but never at the expense of my family or work. My daughter knows that I’m an endurance athlete. She gets that I’m also a coach and a business and fitness professional. She also knows that she’s a priority. My husband is the same way. He understands that if I’m training, I need to put in quality training time.
What keeps you returning to races like this?
Ultraracing parallels life. It’s a journey, it’s hard, and it’s sometimes unknown. There are obstacles you have to overcome. It’s going to be painful, but the goal is to finish strong and reach the finish line. That’s what keeps me motivated. The race this weekend? I’m going to learn something from it. It’s always a new experience.
The 2017 Western States 100-Mile Endurance Race begins this Saturday, June 24 at 5 a.m. You can track Bree’s progress by following bib number 241.