Thursday, December 16, 2010

4 Seasons of Running in 2 hours!

A beautiful hot sunny day in the bush

Today’s run had it all. I had arranged to run with my training partner Tylana at 4pm, but had the chance to get out earlier, so took the opportunity to get out for a bit of a warm up, and boy was it warm. It was 34C when I left the house, and the real killer was the 90% humidity. I have found humidity is far more limiting for me than the heat as it impedes the efficacy of sweating in cooling your body. This is part of my running blueprint that I have learnt from logging my training sessions.

It was a good thing that I had learnt from previous runs to be prepared for what was ahead of me. I had a full 3l bladder of water and 1 bottle of Endura, and I was going to need it as the sweat was dripping from my nose within the first 500m. 

Mud, Mud, Glorious Mud!
I was really happy that I did take the opportunity to get out there a bit earlier, as I have had little time to get out and run recently (and to be honest lacking in motivation to get up at 5am to run, but that is changing). I had fun running through the dried mud tracks only to find a nice dry crust over the sort of mud pigs and kids go wild for, and this was the end result. About 1kg of extra weight on one leg made for an interesting workout.

After an hour I met up with Tylana, and it was still very hot and humid, but there was a storm brewing. I checked the weather website and within a 10 minutes the wind picked up by 20kmh and the temperature dropped by 5 degrees. This was very welcome relief, but there was a bit more than we bargained for.
Half an hour later it enveloped us!
The rain was steady and not too heavy and then it got dark, and the thunder was getting closer and louder. Being quite a bit taller I knew I was the one the lightening Gods were going to take out first! So we decided to take the quick route back home – good choice. About 800m from our finish it got darker again and the area resembled a scene out of “Twister”.  The rain started lashing down, and the wind was intense (but at least it was at our backs and pushed us along). Branches were being ripped from trees, one was uprooted, cars had pulled over because of the intensity of the rain and the roads had become rivers – all this in a matter of seconds. It eased for about a minute, although still raining heavily, and then with only 300m to go it gave us another heavier full on dose, with more of the same. I checked afterward and the wind was blowing at over 80kmh and we had 15mm of rain in these few minutes.

I didn’t get a picture during this storm as it was just too wet, but think of the pictures of the hurricanes and cyclones you see on tv and that was pretty much it.

It was really exhilarating and something I look forward to doing again, although I’m not sure about the falling branches and lightening. It got me thinking about all those people who don’t get out and enjoy what nature has to offer. Even at its most harsh, it was a great experience and awe inspiring.

So what is the lesson? Don’t ever use the weather as an excuse to stay indoors. I’m reading about all you guys running the snowy trails in the US and Europe, and am very jealous. It reminds me of my cross country running at school along the narrow country roads with snowdrifts on either side, slushy puddles filling your shoes and the red glow of your skin from the cold. Of course it was not cool at school to suggest you enjoyed it then, but 25 years on things have changed.

Rain, wind or shine get out there and enjoy it!

Happy running :-)


“Carpe Diem”

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Your race strategy for successfully running an Ultra Marathon

For any running race you can’t just turn up and expect to run a personal best. It is important to have a plan or strategy. It is likely that you will record a DNF (Did Not Finish) in an ultramarathon if you do not plan for what lays ahead.

The trouble with an ultramarathon is that you will be out there for a long time and it is almost impossible to predict what will happen during the course of the race. It is also highly likely that you will have to deal with the unexpected, as a lot can go wrong when you’re out running for 12 hours or more.

So how should you plan your race?
It's all in the planning

First of all you need to have a clearly defined goal (or goal) for your race. For an ultra the primary goal for all runners should be to finish. Anton Krupicka, an elite ultrarunner has said that “To finish a 100 mile race on a good day is bloody difficult, on a bad day it’s next to impossible”, which goes to show that even the best in the game don’t take finishing lightly.

If you have more specific goals they need to have flexibility given the number of factors out of your control that can affect your progress.

With your goal clearly defined you will then need to establish how you are going to achieve that, and what variables you are going to have to consider during the race. Primarily these will be associated the weather and the terrain. Secondary effects are going to include such things as dehydration, nutritional stress, cold/heat issues, gear malfunction, navigational problems, and the like.

You can then prepare options to deal with these variables to keep you on target to achieve your goals. However to be able to do this you will also need to have the presence of mind to know what the cause of the problem is, to remain calm, and to adopt the best adjustment to your strategy. Often the cause of the dreaded DNF is the runner not noticing the early signs of a potential problem and not changing their plans before they become fatal to the goal.

Keeping this mental presence of mind is one of the hardest things to maintain throughout an ultramarathon, as it requires long periods of concentration. To help with this you can prime your support crew with questions to ask or reminders to help re-establish your focus at checkpoints.  If you are without a support crew, you can put notes inside drop bags, or write notes on your hands. It is important to have some means of refocusing on the task when you will most likely be feeling tired and distracted by the trials associated with running for 12 hours or more.

This is one of the benefits of staying with other runners during the race as you can act as a reminder for each other. This also helps with concentration as you are more likely to keep things in mind if you have a responsibility to someone else.

So when it comes to having a strategy for your race, it is all about being physically prepared for the expected, and mentally prepared for the unexpected.

Happy Running,

“A lack of planning is the most common reason we fall short of our dreams and goals”
“Failing to plan is planning to fail”

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The difference between running 100km and 100miles – 5 P’s

Following the completion of the Great North Walk 100 mile event a couple of weeks ago (race report here) under very tough conditions it highlighted to me a number of differences from running a 100km event. Conveniently they are all P’s, and it doesn’t mean you pee 5 more times in a 100miler over 100kms, although that would be recommended!

For me the preparation step up from 100km to 100miles is similar to the step up from running a marathon to running 100kms. The physical training wasn’t all that different to what I would do for 100kms, although I did put in a more intense few weeks about 16 weeks out to really build up base mileage and get plenty of toughness in my legs. I also focused almost exclusively on trail hill running for 3 weeks about 5 weeks out from race day (but this is just specific training for the event in mind which I would recommend for any race)

What I found different was in the mental preparation for 100miles. Many months were spent rehearsing for the event in my head, and coming to terms with the appreciation that 100miles is pretty much double 100kms, or at least it will feel that way. 

The other key thing was that DNF was not an option because it takes so long to train for 100 miles and that a second chance for this event would be another 12 months off and that was not a time I was happy to wait. So I had to adopt a no excuses mindset, prepare for discomfort and have a strategy that would get me to the finish.

When running 100m over 100kms, pacing is all important. You blow up early in a 100 miler and it’s going to be a long day at the office. This was especially relevant for GNW 100 as it was hot and humid.

My normal ultra strategy is to walk all the hills and run the flats and the downs. The trouble is that on race day you can get dragged along by the crowd and you find yourself running someone else’s strategy, not your own. 

By walking early in a 100 miler instead of running you may delay your arrival at the next checkpoint by a few minutes, but you will increase your chances of crossing the finish line which is always the primary goal. You have to appreciate that walking doesn’t mean your pace drops to zero, you may only be a couple of minutes a km slower than you would be running anyway, so the time lost could be negligible. And what is 15 minutes when you’re out running for 24hours+.

As with all things ultra running related, you need to have a pace strategy, and be prepared to adapt it to suit conditions. And for a 100mile race you are going to have to be patient, it’s just too long to rush things no matter what your ability.

For example, if it is especially hot you may want to take it easy through the heat of the day and focus on keeping hydrated, and then as the heat drops of push the pace a little. It leads us to another “P”, preservation, you simply have to preserve what you have to keep you moving forward, and this takes patience.

Everyone who has completed a 100mile event has had to go through some tough miles, and I can guarantee you won’t finish without bucket loads of perseverance and persistence. No matter how much you train and how well you prepare you are going to have the urge to slow down and stop, but you must persevere. This for me is the essence of running 100miles.

The difference from running 100km is that the periods that you require perseverance are far longer and far tougher, and that takes immense mental fortitude. Which leads us to...

Without doubt the biggest difference between running 100km and 100 miles is in your mindset. In fact all of the above “P’s” are basically psychologically based.

In a 100km race you will go through many mental ups and downs, and you will find your subconscious throwing up all manner of excuses for you to drop out before the finish line. In a 100mile event these ups and downs are deeper and stronger and tend to last longer. You can find you get absorbed in a mental tug of war with yourself for many hours.  

Being aware of this you could try including it into your training. By this I mean embracing pain, tiredness and negative thoughts, and seeing it as a challenge that you will overcome. As with all things, when you have done it once, it becomes easier next time. This is why the likes of Ann Trason, Pam Reed, Scott Jurek, Marshal Ulrich, Dean Karnazes and countless other ultrarunners seem to be able to run on forever – they have become used to the discomfort which may have stopped them years earlier.

So if I had to define the difference between 100kms and 100miles, I’d probably say that it’s not all that different, just a whole lot harder, far more than twice as hard.  You have to be mentally tougher, more controlled, more disciplined and be prepared to maintain that for twice as long!

Happy Running!

“If you’re going through hell, keep going” - Winston Churchill

Saturday, November 20, 2010

GNW 100s Unabridged Race Report (almost as long as the race itself!)

OK, so I’ve just about got over the never again thoughts, and am feeling about normal again, so it’s time to tell the tale of what I’ve been doing for the last couple of weeks. This Saturday and Sunday I completed the Great North Walk 100, known as Australia’s Toughest Trail Race, and a deserved title it is.  The “100” down plays things as the 100 mile race is actually over 107miles, an almost round 174kms!!

For me this weekend has been the highlight of my ultra running life to date, and the reason for my silence last week was due to my own personal specialist form of tapering. Basically I did nothing all week, and had very little to write about! 

I stayed with a friend the day before in the beautiful Hunter Valley, and avoided the temptation to sample the local wines. Instead I sat with my feet up eating oats, nuts, fruit, salads and other healthy, carb-rich stuff, and drinking rich fruit juice all day. I took one gentle walk outside from where I could see part of the race course through the shimmering haze – it was about 32c but felt hotter. My thoughts of the next day were partly concern for the heat, but it actually enabled me to adjust my race strategy.  I had planned to carry one sports drink bottle with my 3l water bladder, and instead elected to take 2 bottles and the 3l bladder which proved to be a very wise choice.

When the alarm went off early Saturday morning I felt ready for the day, and calmly prepared my honey and banana sandwich and large glass of V8juice – my standard race morning breakfast.  The start of the GNW100 has a unique atmosphere. A real mix of emotions running through the quietly massing runners from silent almost trancelike meditation to raucous laughter as old friends meet up digressing over previous races. 
Ready to go!

The Race Director delivers his normal “motivational” speech with warnings of snakes, leeches, fallen trees and of course the heat. He even took great pleasure in noting that there was an improvement to the course as the unmanned water drop had been moved to the top of the hill as this would make it easier to medivac you out of trouble – so if you’re in a bad way all you have to do is make a 300m vertical climb over steep gullied trails in searing heat. Very reassuring.

He also introduced some of the international visitors to the race, Jon, Jeri, Don, and Bryan, who are readers of my blog. This gives me a great feeling and is motivational to get to the end.

The race starts with little fuss, and as happened last year I didn’t even hear the starter’s “Go!”.  All that is going through my mind, apart from enjoy the moment, is to go slow there is a heck of a long way to go. Last year I foolishly drifted into my normally LSD training pace, which isn’t sustainable over these distances and especially in this heat and humidity. I don’t know what the temperature was at the start, but I remember chatting to a guy 2kms in commenting on how heavily we were sweating for 6am.

The first section is the most sociable. Lots of chat, we’ve all still got the energy and before you know it you find yourself joining into small groups of 3 and 4 runners of a similar pace.  This usually changes on the hills as the different training regimes of the previous months show. Most of us are walking, but some faster than others, and I am at the faster end of the scale, but not in the lead of those elite few up the front who are running the hills too.

I’m fortunate to be quite a quick downhill runner and use these sections to make up a lot of time, but really it’s not about time, it’s about self preservation. A friend sent me a text the day before when I mentioned the potential of a hot run, to which his response was it was the same for anyone. The thing was I wasn’t racing anyone anyway, and that is the case for nearly everyone in an ultramarathon.

The first section goes across some varied terrain, coarse fire trails in the bush, stair climbs and a single track through rainforest where the humidity was brutal. Conscious of this I was diligently drinking all the time, taking salt tabs every 45mins (I’m a heavy sweater) and my cheese spread sandwiches every hour (including one before the start).

Approaching CP1
Had some great chats with Rob, Kieron, Graham, Jon and Kelvin (Badwater Marathon, and Simpson Desert as well as numerous multiday races under his belt – learnt a lot, thanks Kelvin) which made the time fly past. 

So before I knew it I had arrived at the first Checkpoint, 28kms and about 4hrs 20min (45mins slower than last year). Had got through 4.5l of fluid, and was really pleased with this as hydration was my biggest concern, hyponatreamia is never a consideration given my high sweat rate.

Section 1 Stats 

The volunteers at the checkpoint are the best I have ever experienced by a country mile. They could not do enough for you short of throwing on the pack and running in your place! So I munched down watermelon, orange, loads of sweets, and bananas.  The CP folk returned my bladder, I organised my maps, and checked out for the next leg. 24kms of trails, and a 7km section of what would be midday running with no shade.

Being aware of what was ahead I knew that keeping on top of my hydration was essential. This was made challenging when after 10kms I had drained one bottle of powerade and my bladder had run dry. When the helpful guys at the CP had refilled the bladder they hadn’t realised that the kit in the pack was squeezing on the bladder so it seemed full when there was probably room for another 2l of water.  This was a problem, but there was nothing I could do about it.

With one bottle of powerade left I had to ration very carefully. I felt great, which helped. The temperature was up around 35c, which didn’t help one bit!  As I got down onto Congewai Road, the exposed stretch, things were pretty tough. I only had enough fluid left to help me down a salt tab and a couple more sips for the long hot run to the CP. 

I was lucky here as I met up with Luke, full of enthusiasm, and great company.  He is an Ironman more than a runner. He didn’t get into the event he wanted to, so decided to enter the 100km (103km) version of the GNW100 for the challenge and to get one up on his brother! After about 5kms together of chat it turns out he’s a follower of my blog, which lifted me. We ran on to the checkpoint, walking the hills, and slowing through the 50m section of trees to take advantage of the dappled shade they offered on this unforgiving stretch.
Cheese Sarnie at CP2

So after 3 hours, 24kms and 2.5l fluid we ran in to CP2. My crew, John and Mark, were waiting for me with a chair in a shady spot, perfect.  Ate more Cheese spread sandwiches and got loaded up on fluids. The guys put loads of ice in my drink bottles and bladder, which I could feel on my back and it was something I had learnt from last year. 

Section 2 Stats 

After about 10 minutes it was time to head back out into the heat. Luke and I had agreed to run together for the next section as we enjoyed each other’s company, and he wanted someone with him on the next section as it is where I had a close encounter with a large and evil looking snake last year! The first few kms are quite gentle, but then starts the climb over rocks, roots and rubble for about 350m vertical, and it was hot.  About halfway up Luke told me to go on as I was feeling pretty good, the weeks of hill training were really paying off as although they weren’t easy by any means, I was maintaining a good form and my Heart Rate was under control. 

About an hour in the first hill is completed. I passed about 5 others guys on this stretch, it was like a battle field with bodies lying about the place. I was getting into my fluids well and eating regularly. 

As you come off the top of this climb you descend back down the other side of the valley to Watagan Creek. The trail opens up here with fields either side, and I couldn’t see anyone in front or behind. This was one of the first times I had been alone for the entire race, which is really very unusual.

Crossing the creek made wet feet unavoidable, but I knew I had a change available 12kms further down at the next CP. After crossing the creek, there is another climb up out of the valley, this one about 400m and far more intense.

As I started the ascent I met another runner James, who had been in some difficulty and was suffering with stomach cramps.  We walked up for a while, but before long he had to step aside and try and ease the problem, so I gave him some privacy and continued to walk on up. At the top I met the Race Director, Dave Byrnes, at the unmanned water stop. This was a pleasant relief. Not only could I replace much of the water that I’d gone through, but also could get an update on how things were going. James (who had got to the top by now) and I were at the top end of the field, and travelling well. We’d also learnt of a lot of very capable and experienced ultramarathoners who had dropped out because of the tougher than normal conditions.

Buoyed by this we ran on continually checking on each other’s wellbeing. About 5kms out from the checkpoint James complained of pain in his feet, brought on by the soaking at the creek earlier. We decided that the right thing to do was to sit down and sort out the problem as there was still one hell of a long way to go. It showed to be a good choice as he had a pretty nasty blister on his heel, which he dressed and was got on our way (a little slower than before).

The last few kms to the checkpoint are tough single tracks through dense forest. Each Km takes twice as long as you think to cover, so it becomes a mental challenge to keep spirits up. This was pushed further when we find a massive tree across the path, with no obvious route around it, not helped as twilight was fast approaching. So we clamber down the slope through thorns and sliding on loose leaf litter, and then have to climb back up through the same to rejoin the track. This was tough on the legs, but we did spare a thought for the leaders who would have been racing and had no easy way past, as well as thinking of those folks behind us who would have to deal with this in the dark.

The next CP, the Basin Campsite was a welcome site. Both James and I got some medical attention to our feet, as I too felt a hot spot in the last km or so.  Here I tucked into hot noodles, boiled potatoes, fruit and lollies as well as loads of fluids. From here on we were dealing with leeches, as they excitedly gorged on our highly oxygenated blood. I had sprayed both pairs of shoes with Tropical strength Aeroguard (insect repellent) and it certainly helped but is by no means foolproof.

Arriving at the Basin Campsite
Section 3 Stats 

We had spent the shortest hour of my life at that checkpoint, but we had to get on as the light was all but gone and we needed to get back up out of the valley before it got really dark to make navigation easier – we were still with it mentally to be thinking logically at this point.

We had to pass that fallen tree again, which did not make for much fun, and then take a sharp turn up out of the valley which was tough.  This was the first time that I felt any tiredness in my legs, and as we had been on the go for 12 hours I considered this as pretty good.

I had been suffering from mild digestive stress, finding it harder to eat and drink. I put this down to the dehydration effects from earlier and not enough blood getting to my stomach and intestines. However as it got a little cooler, around 20c, and we slowed the pace a little I did manage to rehydrate a little, which eased the difficulty.

On this section we encountered fireflies, a beautiful distraction from the rigours of the race. We eventually hit the road (one of the few sections of road in the entire race) which is dead flat and runs for about 10kms. You may think this makes things easy, but you come across different challenges. The biggest is boredom, as you’re not running all that fast at this point and if you’re going slow then time passes very slowly.  

We mixed things up by running a K and walking a K. We varied this to continue to walk if there was an incline. Cheating the rules, but neither of us was complaining, we were 100kms in at this point and thought we’d earned that right!

CP4, Yarramalong, was a welcome sight, as we gathered the energy to run the last 100m in the CP to impress the onlookers. I met with Luke, the Ironman, who was proudly wearing his medal, what a great effort on his part.

Section 4 Stats  

James and I looked back on the previous CP and agreed we wouldn’t have taken quite so much time if we only had another 22km to go. It really emphasised the differences in strategy of self preservation when running these sorts of distances.

So more fluids, lots of vege soup, cake, fruit and of course my sandwiches. I enjoyed the sit down and it turned into a 40min pit stop. I was in no hurry as the next section was a tough one, and one that had taken me 8 hours last year as I walked the entire distance with another injured runner.

Heading out, 103kms done
Out on the trails again and the stomach trouble was mine this time. I just had to go, but there were a couple of guys about 30m behind us so I thought I’d let them catch up and pass. Trouble is they didn’t so I had no option but to get off the track and drop my shorts. Perfect timing as the guys following came past! How this event strips away all that we preserve in normal life. I did apologise, but there reaction was one that suggested it was perfectly normal behaviour! Perhaps this is what I love about this sport.

It has to be one of the only sports where you are farting openly in front of people you have met only minutes earlier, and it isn’t considered impolite!

The remainder of the section was spent power walking mostly, removing leeches and watching the sky go through its morning colour changes. It was one of the most memorable images from last year’s race and was again this year.

We reach CP5, Somersby, having covered 28kms in 5:45. Didn’t break any records, but have regained some fluids, and am feeling pretty good. I take the opportunity for fresh socks and a fresh shirt. I also tuck into 3 cups of coffee and 4 pieces of Vegemite on toast – the cheese spread sandwiches had lost their appeal. This stuff really hit the spot. I had been eating chocolate covered coffee beans since CP 4, and these coffees just set me up a treat. It probably explains why I look so full of energy in the photos.
Leaving Somersby

Section 5 Stats 

I was now into new territory as I had withdrawn from the event at this point last year. I was feeling pretty good, and James was still having trouble with his feet.  It took a good 10mins of walking before the feet were numbed enough to move freely.

Sore feet
I suggested jogging a bit and we basically kept it up for the entire leg (including a 5:30km!). This section is mostly gently downhill or flat travelling along Mooney Mooney Creek. Unfortunately, this was really the calm before the storm. 

We arrive at the final CP in 2:30 for the 17kms and we’re in reasonable shape. My CP crew were still asleep, not expecting me to be there so soon! Had to feel sorry for them, they had only had a few hours sleep that night, unlike us lazy runners who’d been on our feet for 26 hours!

Section 6 Stats 

Knowing that the final section was ahead and the temperature was getting up there I made sure bottles and bladder were full, and that I made the most of the fuelling opportunity. Fresh socks again, and an unhealthy application of Vaseline to tend to the increasing areas of chaffing.

We headed off in high spirits knowing that whatever happened now we were going to finish, after all we had about 9 hours to cover the final 25kms, which would be easy! The temperatures were climbing, and so were the trails. I found the first 10kms or so relatively comfortable, with no issues on the hills, just frustration at the height of the steps we had to cover and the apparent lack of progress we were making. James was finding things pretty tough, but just kept on going, no complaints.

Two and a half hours in we are at the bottom of a gulley with an impressive waterfall where we met Robin and her pacer. They suggested taking a dip, which initially I thought was a bad idea, but they insisted.  What a great piece of advice that was. I wanted to take off my shoes and socks, but as my foot was taped I didn’t want to risk that coming off and rolling up in m sock, so I kept both shoes and socks on.

The water was so cold as to take you breath away, but I reckon it dropped my core temperature by a couple of degrees and that had to be a good thing. We got back into it with the knowledge that at the top of the valley was another unmanned water stop. The climb back up wasn’t too bad, still benefiting from the effects of the dip. The downside was wet feet, which were itchy by the time we got to the water stop. It was my turn to feel rough.

As we got moving again I found myself in the toughest running conditions I have ever experienced. Obviously my legs were tired, we’d covered 160ks by now, but the heat was intense, there was no shade whatsoever, we were running over bare rock, so the heat was radiating at you from above and below (and still getting hotter as it was around midday), the terrain was so similar it felt like we were running in circles and we could see no hint of our prized destination.

This is where James came into his own. The batteries in my Garmin had gone by this point, so I was relying on his for an estimation as to how far we had left. We were like school kids on a long drive “are we there yet?!” He’d say “Only 10kms to go, but the last Km will be easy so only 9kms really” I knew we’d still have to run that last Km, but strangely this optimism worked and on we went.

Part of Section 7 stats  

Finally we could see water which meant the beach and finish line were at least in range. This was no mirage although it was hot enough for one.  There was still time for one last trick when we were told by a tourist that the beach was just at the bottom of the hill, so we started to run again. Where we got the energy to go from I don’t know.  At the bottom of the hill we had to turn a sharp right as the beach in sight is Pearl Beach, and we need to go up and over the headland to get to Patonga Beach. An evil trick that really tested out fortitude.  At last we can see the finish line through the trees, but still about 1km away.

We continue to run on, trying to beat 33 hours. James is counting out our strides in military time as we hit the beach. Here the worst sight we could have possibly been greet by appeared – two runners about 200m in front of us. Both highly competitive we increase the pace and charge on up the beach. About 100m to go and we breeze past. Given the distance we had covered to get there we must have looked crazy, I sure felt that way. The thing is I felt that I could have kept on going.

Got them!

20m to go
10m out we linked hands and reached out for the long awaited finish post. Emotions are racing all over the place, I can’t really appreciate that we had finished, the effects of the final few kms hit home and it’s all over (for this year!). 

The official time is 32 hours, 57 minutes and some small change. So happy to have finished as there were plenty of times in that last 15kms that I thought it was out of reach. 

We had timed our finish perfectly to be there 3 mins before the presentation, and I am in awe of those leaders who finished more than 8 hours ahead of me.

I removed my shoes to take a swim to cool off, and I was greeted by an interesting sight. My feet were pickled and the blisters had swollen nicely. The doctor was more keen to take photos that treat them, although there was little he could do as it was best they just dry out. He was right as within 12 hours they were almost back to normal.
Wait for it...
Pure bliss

The next 24 hours were great, just eating, drinking, a little sleeping and chatting. Thanks to all that I shared the experiences with out there, especially John and Mark the premier support crew and a big shout goes out to James with whom I shared the highs and lows and extremes of life experience over the tougher 110km of the 174km!

If you have read all the way to here you too deserve a medal. My apologies for the lengthy nature of this report, as I normally try to keep things more informative for your benefit rather than a drawn out personal story. This is something that I shall use for future events and future years, as there is much for me to learn here.
Two very happy guys
Normal postings will resume, with topics inspired by this event such as the differences between 100km and 100miles (ignoring the obvious!) and race preparation strategies.

Happy Running

“If something is humanly possible, consider it to be in your reach”

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Ultramarathon Runner's fingerprint – Discover your own and train more effectively.

I have had some interesting comments on my blog of late, usually positive which is nice. There has been a bit of a trend saying that my ultramarathon posts are good for general stuff and especially for beginner ultrarunners.  I actually make a point of keeping my posts as generic as possible (trying to please all of the runners all of the time). I also do not like to go into too much detail on specific training techniques, and the reason for this is quite simple (and a long running theme of this blog).

We are all different. How our bodies and minds react to changes in temperature, humidity, ground conditions, dehydration, nausea, etc , are all as unique as your fingerprints. So to suggest that a particular ultramarathon training program or hydration strategy that as a “one size fits all” solution would be foolish and possibly a little irresponsible.

I was in contact with another runner the other day, Campbell, who was asking where he could find some good training plans and literature to guide his training. I gave him a couple of good sources of information, but did stress this uniqueness of our responses to training.  I also gave a very high level weekly ultra training regime that I loosely follow of the LSD run on the weekend, and then a couple of strength sessions (hills, stairs, and sprint intervals) and a tempo or fartlek or just a relaxing jog.  You just change the intensity of each type of session dependent on the timing for your next race (and how you’re feeling).

I also suggested a monthly time trial run to track your training progress, strengths and weaknesses. Then to keep a detailed log book to establish what you need to change and what has worked for you before.  This log book will become your personal bible, a blueprint of your running life. The more variety you put into your training, the better informed you will be of how you response to different conditions.  It’s worth noting in your log anything outside your running life that could influence your performance. Things like poor sleep, stress at work, any illness, and so on. 

When you have a good history in your log, it can become an invaluable resource to understand all number of situations such as what tapering regime works best for you, and how you recover most effectively. Most importantly for me, it becomes a source of motivation. Not only do you see all the miles you have run, but also how far you have come in terms of your physical and mental capability. It can bring you out of a training rut, help you avoid injury and make you want to get out of bed at 4:30am to get in a good run before work.

What you have is a runners user manual written specifically for you – and that’s something you can’t buy in a book store or find through Google!

Happy Running!

"Those who say it can't be done are usually interrupted by others doing it."

Training 2-11-2010 (22.4km Trail)
Training 5-11-2010 (17.1km Hills session on Trail)

Monday, November 1, 2010

Planning for race day by running it in your head!

I’m 2 weeks out from the Great North Walk 100 mile ultra event, the final race information has been sent out, and I’m starting to taper. It’s that time when I have to start thinking seriously about what lays ahead and preparing myself so that I am best equipped to reach my goals. 

Any race plan will hinge on your goals for the race.  For most of us the main goal for an ultramarathon is to finish. There are only a privileged few who have a specific target time in mind, and even those who have the experience know that finishing is more important than chasing a time only to record a DNF.

So with the goal to finish in mind, your preparation should be about avoiding those potential stumbling blocks along the way to the finish line. 

If it’s a course you haven’t run before take some time to familiarise yourself with the layout, especially any sections where you could get lost, and make note of the location of the checkpoints and the distances between them.  This will help you mentally prepare for the run, and give you more confidence of the task ahead. Knowing that the next checkpoint is only 15km ahead can be a great lift, and knowing that you have a long hike to the next can enable you to prepare with the right amount of fluids, foods, clothing, etc.

You will want to be considering the conditions on the day, including the weather and ground conditions. Obviously you can’t know exactly what to expect, but the closer to race day you get the more accurate your expectations will be.  The variation in conditions will have a major impact in two areas – the clothing you wear and the fuel, fluids and electrolytes you will consume.  What you take with you for your race will be based upon your own knowledge of how your body performs under different conditions that you will have experienced in training (this is where a good training log will start paying you back).

I like to take everything with me to the race to cover all eventualities and then fine tune what I carry when running on the day. Just don’t get drawn into taking something along just because you have the space in your pack – that’s something you learn the hard (heavy) way. You can be better off knowing that what you need is at the next checkpoint or with your crew.

If you have a crew it’s your responsibility to prepare them for the race too. You don’t want them getting lost or arriving late at a checkpoint – the negative mental effect you (and them) can be severe. Try and give them as much information as possible, especially expected timing (the splits from a previous year is ideal), and any mandatory gear that you have to carry from specific checks such as torches for night sections. Another great morale booster you can get from could be particular foods you like to have, or perhaps ice in your drink bottle, or even a kick up the arse – remember you will be tired and may not remember what you want and more importantly what you need. They are an important part of the team and the more they understand about your running habits, strengths and weaknesses the more they can contribute to the team success.

If you are running without a crew then more planning is essential. You will need to prepare your drop bags very carefully to cover the unexpected. In addition, familiarity with what is on offer at each checkpoint will facilitate better planning of what you need to prepare for yourself. You may even want to slip a motivational note or picture into your drop bag to give you that emotional lift (or kick!) that you need.

This highlights the major benefit of planning for your race. By mentally preparing for a race you will be in a better frame of mind to cope with the unexpected on race day. By planning weeks in advance of your race you are actually letting your subconscious know that it needs to prepare your body for what is ahead, so that you can mentally as well as physically peak on the day. By the same token, it will keep you focused on the goal and keep any problems in perspective. By way of example, you could bonk in a race and drop out, when taking an hour out to eat and rest could be sufficient to get you back on track and to reach your goal.

How I like to prepare for a race is by running the race in my head, visualising what will happen, what can go wrong, what I need to do at each checkpoint and so on. Visualising things going wrong and then overcoming them is a great way to prepare for such occasions as your brain can’t distinguish between what is imagined and what is reality. When you have done this and the problem occurs in reality you are far better prepared to overcome it. 

The one thing I do visualise is crossing the finish line and the feelings that come with it. No matter how I visualise it the actual feeling is way beyond comparison.

Happy Running!


“90% of Ultrarunning is 100% mental” - Unknown, but I like it :-)

Training 28-10-2010 (48kms along the beach)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Know your Sweat Rate, and finish your races strong

Normally we focus on our sweat rate during those hotter months, but it is something you need to keep in mind when you’re running in the Antarctic Marathon as much as at Badwater.

Knowing your sweat rate can be the key to avoiding some of the most debilitating and indeed deadly conditions you can experience when running Ultramarathon distances, such as dehydration or Hyponatremia. Keep in mind that when you sweat you are losing electrolytes as well as fluid.

Measuring your sweat rate is fairly simple; basically weigh yourself before and after an event. Add the weight of anything you consume during the run to the difference, and you will have the weight of fluid that you have lost as sweat during the run (assuming you didn’t pee, bleed or vomit!). The volume of fluid you lose is equal to 1 litre per kilo of weight lost. Then just adjust for the time you were running to give you your rate (so if you lost 1.5litres in 2 hours, your sweat rate is 750ml per hour).

This figure is not definitive for you as it will vary dependent upon conditions, both physiological and environmental. The most noteworthy of these are temperature and humidity. Your body sweats as a means of cooling your body, and is most effective when the sweat evaporates from the surface of the skin, rather than dripping off or being absorbed into clothing. 

Obviously you can’t do much about the environmental conditions, other than trying to run in the shade or out of the wind (and these actions can make a significant difference to your sweat rate, especially when you’re running for 4hours plus). Where you do have control is on your clothing choices and the key considerations should be on the type of material, colour and how closely it fits.

So it is important to calculate your sweat rate under a variety of conditions, and to log these so that you can understand how your body will react during races. When you have an appreciation of your sweat rate you can plan your race strategy more effectively and hopefully get you to the finish feel sharp and strong.

Happy Running!


"My advice is that you should use your brains more and train less."  - Yiannis Kouros

Training 21-10-2010 (Hill repeats on trails)
Training 23-10-2010 (28.4km Hill trail)
Training 24-10-2010 (32.1km Trail)
Training 26-10-2010 (Hill repeats on trails)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Beautiful Running Quote - the "Why" of distance running.

A good friend of mine sent me this quote as he thought it was appropriate for someone with a running affliction.  I wanted to share this with you...

"At least I was fit. I ran thirty miles a week. I had begun during a period of my life when I felt I had little control over anything. Things were happening and I could do nothing to stop them, so I looked for control elsewhere.

I sought sovereignty over myself. I wanted change, some sort of escape or transformation.

I ran everyday back then, as far and as hard as I could. When I got back from a run, I’d pull my soaking training gear off and stand in front of the mirror. My gut disappeared. My chest filled out. My muscles got hard. My face got thin. I had my hair razored down.

I shaped my body to the force of my will . . .

. . . I still ran hard. I waited for the endorphin high, my chemical reward. It didn’t come every night, but when it did, my mind reached. My imagination became fierce. I made decisions. I empowered myself.

In uncertain times, the road was an absolute. It could not be cheated or duped; I could only do that to myself. I never did though. It was a pure thing. It liberated me.

. . . when I went out in the rain or cold late at night, and ran past houses with people sitting inside, I felt separate from them, I felt superior to them. I knew something that they didn’t.

Every now and again, I’d pass someone going to a gym in expensive gear, or out with a personal trainer, or I’d overhear people talking about their diets and weight and what they were going to do about it, and I’d laugh at them. These people didn’t need personal trainers. They didn’t need gym fees or Stairmasters. They didn’t need Lycra or diet books.

They needed determination. They needed asceticism. They needed to alleviate their weakness, their softness of mind. They needed to want this more than they wanted that."

Every runner inspires me.

Happy running,

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Don’t run junk miles, make your training count

I was struggling with my motivation early the other morning, and my normal 15 minutes from getting out of bed to getting out of the house had increased to 30 minutes. I stood outside the house, having planned to do a long (30-40km) session the night before, and was weighing up a quick run up the local mountain (as the easy option) or a hills session instead. The longer session was not even a consideration!

During these 5 minutes of mental deliberation I did manage to have a moment of clarity.  Basically the run up the mountain would have contributed very little to my training, especially as I’m only 4 weeks out from my next 100mile race (actually 174kms) – the Great North Walk 100. Also I felt I needed to do something worthwhile given that I had had a two rest days as my wife had been away for the weekend and I couldn’t tempt my 6 and 8 year olds to come and join me for a few hours running!

Junk miles!
I opted to do a hill session, where I knew I was going to get a genuine benefit, and could probably have squeezed the effort of the 30-40km session into a much shorter period.

To have taken the easy option would have been to run “junk miles”. They can be detrimental using up energy reserves, risking injury and offering little in strength (or running form improvement), without actually progressing your training.

All too often runners, and especially ultrarunners when training for a specific event, find themselves watching and pushing their weekly mileage to fall in line with a training plan. Now I am very much in favour of having a plan, but that should be centred on the output and performance benefit, not just on the distance you run.

This doesn’t mean you should be out there killing yourself in every session, finishing completely spent and needing days to recover. You should still go out and run for the pure pleasure or being out in the environment, feeling the blood pumping and endorphins rushing, but not every time.  There should always be flexibility in any training schedule, but I would suggest keeping true to it about 80% of the time, sort of the inverse of Pareto’s principle.

Just keep in mind that there is a limit to how much you can improve your running performance in a short space of time, or with intermittent training sessions.  Always train with a goal in mind and whatever that specific goal is, it should be for some performance enhancement, be it in speed, strength, running economy, or even psychological enjoyment.

So train hard, become a better runner and have fun.

Happy running, 

 “It is futile to do with more things that which can be done with less” – Occam’s Razor

Training 16-10-2010 (30km Hill session on trails)
Training 19-10-2010 (Hill repeats on trails)