© Skyrunner World Series
American ultrarunner Brittany Peterson is on fire. Last year, the 34-year-old moved from short, technical Skyrunner World Series races to the ultimate benchmark of the 100-mile distance: the Western States Endurance Run, where she battled it out with eventual winner Clare Gallagher to place second and record the fourth-fastest women’s time in history.
Then, in June of this year, Brittany and her ultrarunning partner, Cody Lind, set a new fastest known time (FKT) on Minnesota’s Superior Hiking Trail, a super-gnarly, 300-mile route that accumulates almost 40,000ft in elevation gain. It took the couple four days, 9 hours, 27 minutes and 18 seconds, and at one point, due to 94 per cent humidity and an electrolyte issue, Brittany was peeing blood for six hours. Gulp.
As you’ll see from this email Q&A, Brittany is a total badass and I’m thrilled to have her on Lessons in Badassery.
You recently set a new FKT for the 300-mile Superior Hiking Trail (SHT). How are you feeling?
I am feeling decent. I was very fortunate to come out not too banged up. My biggest issues early on in my recovery were swollen and stiff feet, as well as a big blister on one foot and pressure points on my heels. I had to focus on hydration as well, as my body was not quite right regarding bowel and bladder function due to the dehydration I faced.
You had a lot of challenges, including peeing blood. What was the toughest part of the FKT?
I didn’t expect to have such significant issues with dehydration so early on. I’ve never had blood in my urine before and was worried about all of the potential health concerns that this was indicating. I had to stay level-headed to focus on how well I was actually running, and that if I was doing significant damage or close to needing hospitalization this wouldn’t have been possible. It was an interesting challenge where I needed to solve my hydration problem (too much electrolyte, and needed straight water, and lots of it!), stay positive while doing so, and deal with the physical issues of burning urination, frequent urination and examining the color to gauge improvement.
This was all between miles 60-100 or so. So it was very early to be dealing with “health” concerns. It was also very beneficial to see myself be able to work through it and still come out accomplishing my goal. Later on in the FKT attempt, just the mental aspect of continuing on at such a slow pace was very challenging. There were times I’d look at my watch several times before even a tenth of a mile passed. I had to stay mentally strong and focused and really be sure to only look at small segments versus what was left.
You covered around 43,000ft of elevation gain during the FKT. How did you prepare?
I live at a higher elevation and much more mountainous terrain than where the Superior Hiking Trail is located. I felt this was an advantage, as all of my training was at this higher elevation and it was pretty easy to get more elevation gain than was necessary for the training. However, once I was doing the FKT attempt I realized how glad I was that the training was, in a sense, “over-preparing” because it felt like it had paid off and actually was quite necessary. The terrain was constantly up or down, but nothing was too long so the climbing never felt too bad. But cumulatively it takes its toll more so related to general fatigue and slowing down the pace due to the technical aspects, but also never getting into a rhythm with [your] running.
You ran the FKT attempt with your partner, Cody. Are there pros and cons to running with your other half?
There were definitely pros as well as cons to doing this with a significant other. First, the obvious con of many more things can go wrong with two people and you’ll likely have highs and lows at different times. However, we felt like despite having to deal with some of this (my dehydration issues early, Cody’s knee pain later), we still felt like having two of us was a greater advantage. It did seem to bring us together even more and really showed how in sync we are regarding communication, logistics and mental strength. Cody was able to build me up, and I built him up. We both got in mental holes toward the end and utilized pump-up music or our crew was able to build us up. Overall, not everyone could do this with their significant other, but we are pretty lucky that we do a lot of training and adventuring together, which is a huge pro to find someone you can do that with!
This isn’t your first FKT – you also hold the unofficial Fastest Known Time women’s record for all 9 of Idaho’s 12,000ft peaks. Is it safe to say you’re a fan of huge days in the mountains?!
Yes! Part of the reason we chose the timing of the Superior Hiking Trail was first, to sort of fill the void of missing Western States this year (we had originally planned to do the attempt that same weekend, but moved it up a week due to my family’s schedule). But also, it was to do it early in the summer because come July we wanted to be in the mountains. The snow is melting up high and the high peaks are again accessible, but only for so long! So now is the time to be home and maximize our time in the high country, tagging peaks and dreaming up new adventures and challenges.
Typically, do you base your training around a specific goal?
Yes, my training definitely shifts based on what I’m training for. As do the metrics that I base my training quality off of. For something like the SHT FKT attempt, it was all about time on feet and cumulative days where you need to focus on fueling, recovery and continuing to be able to move for several back-to-back days. Other types of running, I’ll focus on mileage or vertical gain if I know I really need to have good climbing legs (i.e. CCC last year or any of the skyrunning races). Many of my “peak” training runs or training blocks are a combination of all – time on feet, decent mileage (but certainly not likely to be 100-mile weeks or anything) and a solid vertical gain of around 15,000-20,000ft in a week.
In a typical race season, what does a standard week of training look like for you?
I joke that I am a “part-time, full-time athlete.” I work full-time as an instructor at a University, where I have the summers off. During the school year, I have less flexibility and need to utilize my time well to ensure quality training can occur. Here, my mileage ranges between 50-80 miles a week depending on what I’m training for and where I’m at in my training cycle. In the summer months, again depending on races and whatnot, I can have greater volume and mountain time. I do regular speed workouts, but these seem to be mostly during the school year over the winter and they taper during the summer when I’m spending more time climbing and getting strong hiking skills. There are always exceptions, as we’ll adjust training to fit the needs of my race schedule.
One thing that I’m very consistent with is my strength and mobility routines. I’m the type of runner that needs to be very diligent with stretching/mobility and exercises to emphasize proper muscle activation. This can be challenging when I’m travelling or out of a routine in the summer, but I quickly realise things can sneak up on me and doing these exercises is very critical. I think the balance of this “part-time, full-time” running is very helpful for me to stay healthy, both physically and mentally. It gives me a built-in time for less chaos with travelling and greater structure. This allows me to avoid overtraining and burnout while having a well-rounded perspective with both of my “careers.”
You came second at Western States (100-miler) last year. How did you prepare for the heat?
I was fortunate enough to spend time in California training on the course as well as acclimating to the heat. The heat training was likely one of the most critical aspects of the training, as well as out of my norm for training. It was brutal and wore me out for sure, despite backing off my volume when I was in the critical window to heat train prior to the race.
What did your training for Western States look like?
My Western States training was actually a little different from what I had done for past races. I was actually battling injury March-May, where I was cross-training and strengthening. I had decent fitness at this time but wasn’t running as much volume. In early May, my recovery started clicking and I was able to run and increase the volume more quickly, and as it was now summer, I could spend more time recovering. So my focus was on volume and heat training.
I do believe the forced time off prior to the race kept me very fresh, physically and mentally. Also, the focus on my rehabilitation allowed me to go in strong and efficient. I just needed fine-tuning with my training and I was ready to go. This was pretty eye-opening and really highlights the fine line with overtraining versus potential undertraining.
You made up a huge amount of time on Clare Gallagher in the latter stages of the race. How were you able to bring this speed out of the bag?
My race strategy was to keep things relaxed and controlled for the first 100km, get to Foresthill (mile 62) and pick up my pacer, who was Cody. I knew I just had to get to Cody and then all I had to do was run. I ended up getting to Foresthill in high spirits and good physical condition and had a really good section down to the river. This was where, in my race plan, the race would truly begin. It definitely began there, because I was then informed of Courtney Dauwalter’s injury and that now I was racing for first place.
In all of my preparations, the focus was: you have to be able to run at the end. I was very fortunate to just have executed well, planned well and then had one of the best pacers around. Cody knew exactly how to push me and encourage me and boost me up as my energy dipped, or as my competitive spirit would fade. To be honest, I was almost hoping to not catch Clare because my history is to absolutely dread that finish line sprint. I was pushing that out of my head and kept running at a pace I wouldn’t have ever guessed I could do at that late in a hundred-mile race. The biggest question, is how the heck did Clare pull that kind of speed out at mile 95? That was truly impressive and I just tried to hang on for dear life. But in the end, I think it was such a special moment where two runners exceeded what they thought was possible and were able to dig deeper than they knew they could! I’m pretty proud of that in myself and amazed to have witnessed that in Clare!
What mental resources do you use when things get super-hard?
I use several strategies. The biggest one for longer races is breaking it into sections. Do not look at the race or adventure as a whole or as the big picture. This can be overwhelming or take you out of the present moment. You need to accomplish a big goal by doing it one section at a time. That was key for Western States, as well as the SHT FKT. When I need distraction, I use other resources like pump-up music, audiobooks or I will count. Typically I utilize counting during harder, shorter efforts and pair it with my breathing (end of races or during a speed workout). This is weird, but it really does work! My first 50-miler, I basically chanted under my breath: “Four more miles, you can do it” over and over as it counted down.
What are your favourite items of kit for racing and training?
I’m loving the Pegasus Trail 2 by Nike – cushion, lightweight, but good traction. I utilize the great combo of my Naked Running Belt with my Leki poles for my mountain adventures – easy to carry when not needed and then quick and light to get out, assemble and aid in climbing. The MOBO board and TRX are great therapy tools for strength training and mobilization training for injury prevention.
Who are you sponsored by right now?
Nike Trail, Suunto, GU energy, Leki, Naked Running Belt and Runner’s High Herbals.
What’s on your running radar for the coming future?
After doing a 300-mile event, I would like to do a hundred-mile race later this fall if it’s feasible to do so. This year, with so many races cancelled, it is the perfect opportunity to look at other races, local races or plan your own adventure. I was supposed to do UTMB this year and obviously this is a bucket list race for the future. Other bucket list races really are just destinations that I’m craving to go see; places I haven’t been yet – Tarawera 100k in New Zealand, Cape Town 100k in South Africa, for example.
In the meantime, I do want to repeat my Idaho 12’ers FKT to do it solo for a true women’s FKT (previously I ran it with Cody and our friend Nate Bender, who set the FKT on the Beartooths in Montana). I want to get a true resemblance of what I can do on it and make it more of an official FKT per their standards in order to set the bar and encourage someone else to go get after it!
You can follow Brittany via her social media: www.instagram.com/runhappyb, www.twitter.com/runhappyb and www.facebook.com/runhappyb. You can also visit Brittany’s website at www.brittanypetersonruns.com.