[00:00:00] We talked a lot about beginning topics here on this channel because there are lots of beginners, lots of beginner questions, and sometimes even old fogies like me need a reminder of some of the beginning challenges that we have when we start running. But I know there are some of you who have been running for a while like me and are looking for your next challenge. Often that means half marathon, marathon, or maybe even an ultra.
[00:00:22] So today I want to talk about what I think may be the most challenging ultra around. If you want to take on what I think is the “creme de la creme”, so to speak, and that would be the Nolan’s 14 route.
[00:00:46] If you haven’t been here on the channel before. I’m Jesse Funk, the founder of Solpri.com and the host of this show Runner’s High, where we talk about everything running, including today’s topic, the Nolan’s 14 route. So if you love running, whether you’re a beginner, as I mentioned, we talk a lot about those things or you’re an old vet like me, stick around, subscribe. You get more videos every single week.
[00:01:08] So a little bit of housekeeping. Normally I say we’re coming out with videos every Tuesday and Thursday. I’m hoping to eventually get back to that schedule, but for now we’re moving videos to just on Tuesdays. I have a lot going on with my schedule, running the company, making videos, all the things that comes with all those responsibilities.
So to try to be fair to you and try to make better quality videos, we’re just going to one week and then on Fridays the Smart Athlete Podcast the other reason you should stick around, so again, subscribe.
[00:01:37] But let’s go on to what exactly is the Nolan’s 14 route like most epic challenges for the ages, the Nolan’s 14 started as a challenge between friends between Fred Vance and Jim Nolan. It was the idea that Jim had done, I think, all of the 14ers, which is a peaks over 14,000 feet in elevation in Colorado. He’d done all the 14ers and his friend challenged him to try to fit as many 14ers as he could in a 100-mile route.
[00:02:12] So that is the makeup of what the Nolan’s 14 is, this 100-mile route that has 14, 14,000 foot elevation peaks in it, starting west of Leadville and ending near Mount Charbonneau. Hopefully, we’ve got a picture for you of the route here from fastestknowntime.com. We’re going to talk about all the challenges of this route, why I think it’s probably the most epic ultra you can take on, even though it isn’t actually a race, so to speak.
[00:02:47] Challenge number one. And this comes in the territory with pretty much any ultra. So if you’re used to road running like I am, or trek, you’re not used to what is going to be the number one thing you’re going to come up against and that’s elevation gain. So pretty much any ultra is going to be on trail, which means you’re going to be going up and down a lot.
[00:03:13] I think what makes Nolan’s 14 the most challenging? Not just because it’s 14 14s, but if you think about the elevation gain and what that does to your body so we can go up over time. But the thing I think is more kind of deteriorating to people is having to consistently go down hill over time because there’s so much stabilization that happens.
[00:03:37] We work on this like push-off motion so much in running, especially if we’re kind of flatliner, so to speak, like me running a lot of like street running. So we strengthen that, but going downhill because of the stabilization. We don’t really work on that kind of strength and doing elevation over and over and over, just so much gain over so much time is going to be a big kick in the pants.
[00:04:03] I am remembering now one of the qualifications about Nolan’s 14, if you want to be an official finisher, is you have to complete it within 60 hours. So that’s another one of the challenges we’ll get to kind of what that does to you in a minute. But let’s finish talking about elevation.
[00:04:19] So for fair comparison, let’s talk about Leadville 100 versus the Nolan’s 14, because since they both start in Leadville, basically, we want to talk about them as comparable routes when you start going out different parts of the country, you really throw things off because a route at sea level clearly not going to be as difficult as the Nolan’s 14 because of the elevation. You just can’t get as much oxygen into your body.
[00:04:47] So point for Nolan’s 14 but not just that Leadville 100 has roughly 15,000 feet of elevation gain over its 100-mile trek. Nolan’s 14, on the other hand, 45,000 feet of elevation gain three times as much. It’s — I have not done it, not done ultra yet, but I would say it’s three times as much and I would guess the effort it takes to complete it probably more than three times the effort. There’s just something that elevation does to you again with that stabilization downhill over time, if you haven’t spent a lot of time downhill running, huge challenge. So that’s one of the reasons that I think Nolan’s 14 is the most epic ultra challenge you can take on.
[00:05:38] Again, with that elevation change as well, you’re going to be high elevation, lots of elevation gain and then that 60-hour limit to an official finisher. It does a lot of things to you and pushes a lot, pushes you to your limit. And I’ll talk about some of the things people reported going through during this challenge and why that’s so difficult. The first challenge, which is the challenge of any ultra, is going to be fueling.
[00:06:06] And you have to kind of decide, how am I going to stay moving? Because over time you need more food, you just don’t have enough energy to continue going. So we know, like we talked about on this channel before, you have roughly 2 hours of usable glycogen stored in your muscles without taking in more carbs. The amount of fat you have in your body, we’ll say, is relatively infinite. Obviously, it’s not. It’s finite.
[00:06:31] But as far as being able to continue moving forward in some manner or fashion, we have plenty of fat, but we need those carbs. So you have to figure out, am I going to bring all the food with me? Am I going to have people at various points where I can pick it up? Depends on whether you want to do a supported or unsupported route of this.
[00:06:52] Some people try to take the challenge of taking everything with them or again, having friends with you. They’re going to meet you at certain points of the route. That is the kind of pedestrian challenge of any ultra, especially this one, just figuring out your food.
[00:07:11] And one of the challenges that I’ve talked to different ultra runners about on the Smart Athlete Podcast, we’ll link to some at the end of this video, if you want to hear their stories about their ultras and challenges, is figuring out not just how many calories do you need now which varies a little bit, but 2 to 300 is a good guess. how much hydration you need, we specialize in that. We can help you with that.
[00:07:35] But beyond that is having a variety. So just eating the same like say gel over and over and over for 60 hours is going to make you want to vomit. So you need to have an arsenal of different food options and things that are going to change in terms of palatability as you take on something this epic.
[00:07:58] But even if you get that under control, one of the big things you run into with a 60-hour challenge like this is sleep deprivation. Now, I’ll be the first to probably rule myself out of this challenge because I have real problems with not going to sleep. I am now 33, I guess, and I have never once stayed up an entire 24-hour period. I just can’t seem to do it. I fall asleep. I’ve tried my best with friends growing up, having sleepovers and stuff, trying to stay up, playing video games all night, just can’t do it.
[00:08:35] So beyond my brain though, there are some real effects that happen to people when they try Nolan’s 14 or just trying to stay up for a long period of time. We know actually that if you stay up too long, it can kill you. But this is not a likely effect in this particular period of time.
[00:08:55] What we can expect are like a slow down cardiovascular system. We can expect mood swings, lack of motivation, irritability, all those kind of things. And if you don’t think that’s going to mess with your ability to continue going forward, then you might want to think again. Or maybe you’re superhuman and you can do things that the rest of us can’t. I don’t know. Maybe that’s you. If so, congratulations.
[00:09:26] In any case, many people report that they actually have to take some amount of sleep during the route. Taking an hour, taking 45 minutes, whatever it is, some kind of nap. And this seems to be a pretty common trend among even the more ‘pedestrian”, so to speak, ultras and ultra runners that I’ve spoken to on the podcast, “Hey, I got 15 minutes here. I got 20 minutes here. I just was so tired. I just had to get a catnap” and then get back going again. Very common.
[00:09:57] It makes sense, right? Like our brains need sleep to do a lot of things and kind of repair things to keep us going. So even those naps can be beneficial in like a pressure situation like this. But I think one of the things that’s reported by some people who have attempted this is one of the more challenging things to deal with because we don’t deal with this in everyday life now. We don’t deal with many of these challenges everyday life, but more so this and that is hallucinations.
[00:10:27] Now, before you just say to me, “Jesse, they’re just in Colorado, man. They’re just high on something, man.” Yes, they’re in Colorado. They could be high on something. But the likelihood of that is pretty low. We do know that prolonged sleep deprivation does lead to sleep deprivation psychosis as it’s known, which is the situation where you begin hallucinating, you become detached from reality and you’re experiencing things that aren’t there.
[00:11:01] Does it always happen to everybody? No. But again, let’s think about just the challenge of that. The physical effort, number one, 45,000 feet of elevation gain higher, I think as far as I can find higher average elevation than any other ultra. Logistical issues of trying to figure out how to get all the food and nutrition that you need. You got to finish it in 60 hours. So you’re going to be sleep deprived at some point and that leads you to hallucinate.
[00:11:39] So you’re exhausted. You’re having a hard time just staying motivated to keep moving. Now you’re seeing things move in the woods and you’re not sure where you are anymore. The disorientation alone can be ridiculous at this point, and that is compounded with the fact that I haven’t even mentioned that large portions of this or the vast majority is off trail. It’s not even marked like you have to do basically like mountaineering to figure out where you’re going and to know where you are on the route.
[00:12:14] So it’s not just like a hike in the woods. It’s a trip to another world in some effect, because you’re going to be doing something that’s unlike anything else. Yes. You’re going to be running. Yes, you can do an ultra. But the physical, mental and I imagine spiritual toll that this route will take on you is probably going to be more epic than anything else you can take on.
[00:12:41] And that’s why I think, again, if you think I’m wrong, leave in the comments below argue with me, please, that the Nolan’s 14 is going to be the most epic ultra you can take on.
[00:12:54] So if you want to hear from some of my guests on the podcast, well, name them all because I don’t know exactly who we’re going to put up. Maybe some of the recent ones. They’ll be on the screen here shortly. You can hear from them anywhere from the few pros we’ve had on to back-in-the-pack runners. Anybody that’s done ultras has spoken to me, have lots of common shared experiences.
[00:13:18] So if you’re thinking about going that route or you want to do the Nolan’s 14, getting some advice from these people is the way to go. So check out one of those wherever they are on the screen, and I’ll see you next time on the next episode of Runner’s High.