Wednesday, September 29, 2010

You know you're an Ultrarunner when...

I've been offline for a week or so as I had to move house unexpectedly, so while I couldn’t fit any running or blogging in I did indulge in some serious cross training in the form of lifting furniture and heavy boxes for two days.

Anyway, whilst packing I realised how many running shoes, clothing, and other running gear I have accumulated, and it got thinking about what it is that makes you an ultra runner.

You know you’re an ultra runner when... consider moving house as cross training. have more shoes than your wife. at 5 meals a day just to maintain your weight. know your personal stats and daily variations in Heart rate, body fat % and blood pressure.

...buying a watch you’re more concerned about its GPS capability than its ability to tell the time. wear a GPS watch for everyday use.

...a big night out is less important than getting up at 5am to run in the rain. see more of your physio than your own family.

...your bedroom looks like a laundry, but smells like a football team dressing room. wear 1970’s fashions because at the time of day you run, and the places you go, no one every sees you. know who Scott Jurek and Anton Krupicka are, and you have either met or know someone who has met Dean Karnazes.

...your library includes the “Lore of Running”, “Ultramarathonman” and “Born to Run” (not to mention shelves full of books on nutrition and sports injuries, and back copies of Runners World). pop out for a short jog you’ll be out for 3 hours. go for a longer run you need to take a backpack full of supplies, a map, and check your insurance is up to date.

...all your friends have single digit body fat percentages.

...a carbohydrate window is not a serving hatch for donuts.

...getting lost on a run is a good thing as it takes you to new and exciting places, and trains the mind to manage the unexpected. have at least 5 pots of Vaseline in your house.

...your gait is not the entrance to your house.

...everyone you talk to about running seems overly concerned with the state of your knees. toenails are considered badges of your trade. shave your legs on the justification that it helps you stay cooler and is more hygienic. find yourself subconsciously doing leg exercises while standing talking to someone.

Feel free to add any of your own!!

Happy Running,

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go.” –T.S.Elliot

Training 22-9-2010 (25.1km trail/street)
Training 23-9-2010 (22.1km Trail)
Training 28-9-2010 (21.5km Trail)
Training 29-9-2010 (21.5km Trail)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Using a head torch for night time trail running

I was up and ready to go for a decent run at 5am yesterday morning but decided bed was more appealing as it was raining (shame on me). To make up for it I went out in the evening for a night time trail run through the national park.

This is nothing unusual as I frequently run at night as it is good training for most ultra events, and I find it more exciting being miles from anyone with nothing but the local wildlife to keep me company. Last night was no exception when I had run into bush turkeys and countless cane toads.

When running at night I like to wait until the last possible minute to put on my head torch, giving my night vision a chance to kick in, as on moonlight nights I have managed without the torch all together (which is far more exhilarating). Typically when I run into a tree or trip over I decide that’s the point to put on the torch. I was nearly decapitated last night by a tree vine dangling across the trail.

At that point I put on my Petzl Tikka Plus headlamp torch which is an excellent piece of kit.  It’s about the size of a matchbox, and weighs about the same taking 3xAAA batteries. I’ve had it a couple of years and it cost about $50. It sits very comfortably on my head with an elasticated adjustable strap, and even when on loosely, it doesn’t bounce at all when running (probably because it’s so light). There are other torches which have the batteries separate to the lamp. With those you can have them balancing out with lamp on the front of your head and the batteries to the rear to reduce bounce, but this is unnecessary with the Tikka.

It has 4 LED lights which are incredibly powerful and so gentle on the batteries lasting for over 30 hours without fading. That’s what it said on the packet; I’ve never had them fade as I always put new batteries in before a race, and haven’t worn the batteries out in my training between races to find out their real limits.

The light is adjustable so that you can tilt it up and down, which neatly clicks between positions simply by pushing the light up and down. It also has 4 light modes, a flashing mode and three levels of brightness. On “full beam” it’s like daylight, but I prefer to run with it on its lowest intensity as it still gives plenty of light to run by, but also preserves the batteries (just in case).

Tips for running with a head torch:
By definition the head torch will be shining outwards from a point close to your eyes, and hence it is very difficult to discern shadows of any potential obstacles. Any shadow cast by the obstacle will not be seen as the light source is the same as the point of view. This can be particularly dangerous when running on trails where the surface is of a similar colour such as sandy gravel and there is very little contrast between surfaces. 

When running on roads this isn’t usually a problem as the typical hazards are things like curb stones, or potholes which generally are a different colour and more easily seen.

To combat this problem I use a second hand held torch which I hold near waist level. This casts a strong shadow highlighting any hazards.  I have seen other runners just having a single head torch style worn on their belt as it removes the problem described above. It does however create other problems as the torch will only light what is in front of you, and not necessarily what you are looking at. I find this really important as I like to look around as I run, looking further ahead to prepare for any obstacles or turns in the trail, as well as being able to see whatever it may be rustling in the bushes around me!

Running with the head torch in the rain creates further challenges. The light from the torch reflects off every rain drop passing your face, which hinders night vision adaption and kind of partially blinds you. This is made worse when there is low cloud, or in a very humid atmosphere, as the moisture shines brighter than the surroundings.

To combat this I tried wearing a cap above the torch, and while it did help this issue and provided a reasonable view ahead, the reflection of the light from the underside of the peak of the cap had the same effect. However by wearing the torch over the cap, the rain stayed out of my eyes, the reflected light was only from the rain away from my face and I could see a clear corridor of light ahead of me, and my night vision was preserved. Oddly the 2-3 feet on the ground in front of me were in complete darkness, but it did not affect my running so clever is the human brain!

As with anything related to ultra running it really comes down to experimentation and finding out what really works for you. Hope fully these pointers will help.

Happy running

“What counts in battle is what you do when the pain sets in.” – John Short

Training 19-9-2010 (26.7km trail)
Training 20-9-2010 (32.4km trail/street)

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Could my sister run as far as I can??

Reading Half Marathon 2010
My sister and I have run together in many previous races and in training runs from 5km to half marathon.  Now I run Ultramarathons and she has moved on from Marathons to Triathalons, where she and her friends do very well - for their age, sorry Lyn ;-) !

We’ve both been pretty fit for the past 20 years or so, and have now drifted down different paths as our activity of choice. Whilst running the other day the thought occurred to me that while we both are pretty healthy and fit (as are my two brothers – couldn’t leave them out for fear of jealous rivalry) How much of my running ability comes down to our genetics (nature) and how much is through training (nurture)?  Basically could I run as far or as fast as say Scott Jurek?

When you strip things down to the bare essentials we all have the same component parts, with the same biochemical reactions going on inside us to enable us to run. Admittedly these can be altered through training, so that your body gets more fuel, more quickly to the right places, so that you can perform better. Through training you can even change the structure and type of your muscle fibres, so that they are more effective for endurance rather than speed.

So put simply there should be nothing stopping me getting my physiology on a par with that of an elite ultra marathon runner.

What about my physique? Well there’s not much I can do there, yes  I can change my weight, but I can’t shorten bones, or drastically change my bone density. To a degree I am stuck with the skeleton I have, and I have to work with that. However as I have already said I can adjust my physiology to work as efficiently as possible, and still be able to challenge those boys at the top of the game – you can’t relax yet Mr Jurek!

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts we can all change our biomechanics to run more efficiently and therefore further. I’ve returned from my physio this week with a new set of exercises to correct a minor misalignment in my running gait, yet too many people believe that they run a particular way and that is something they are stuck with forever. Remember we learnt to walk and run the way we do, so we can learn a new way to do it too.

I guess my point there is that with effort and discipline was can all run with a neutral efficient running style, regardless of your genetics.

The last consideration when thinking of our running potential is that of the mind. In my opinion this is by far the most important factor. Even with a featherlike frame, sinewy muscles, an efficient engine, and perfect running form, without the right mindset you will not run far.

Every time we go running there are mental demons to overcome telling you to “slow down”,” take a break”, or “it’s ok to walk this hill”. Often these stop us stepping outside the door so strong is their conviction.

Their power stretches beyond training when there is the requirement for mental toughness and discipline to refuse that extra slice of cake, or to opt for sleep instead of watching a favourite TV show. This is where the elite have the upper hand, because they do this, and they do it consistently.

So all else being equal it is the mental strength you exhibit that limits your performance.

This does leave the question unanswered of how far can we run? There are very few people who when finishing an endurance event couldn’t actually travel any further. I mean if your life depended on it you’d be able to dig that little bit deeper and find a little something more, and then ask the same of yourself again – when would you stop?

So I’ll leave you with this to that feeling of not being able to give any more just another of those lows you experience in an ultra, which you come out of feeling better than ever, if you only had the mental fortitude to push through?

Happy running

“When you get opportunities in life and you’re too afraid to take them, you strengthen that fear and keep yourself trapped in mediocrity.”

Training 14-7-2010 (11.0km Flat street run)
Training 15-7-2010 (14.5km Trail run)
Training 17-7-2010 (20.1km Trail run)
Training 18-7-2010 (26.8km Trail)

Save Up To 75% At the Road Runner Sports Outlet_234x60

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Use your Head for a Faster Recovery

As someone who would call themselves a runner, be it 5kms, 10km, marathons or ultramarathons , we have all at some time or other been injured (That’s a pretty safe assumption).  I would also put it out there that 90% of us will have at the first sign of injury carried on anyway, hoping that it would pass, like a dose of cramps.

In those situations when the pain continues, we will probably run on the injury another half dozen times to make sure that there is no doubt that running is the cause of the problem. At this point we resort to Google’ing all the symptoms, still in complete denial that there is any real problem and that it will just go away. We then down play or divert or descriptions arguing that the pain is more shooting than stabbing and hence not the nasty injury we’re reading about which would involve an 8 week lay off.

Another couple of weeks pass, having followed all the online expert prescribed recovery exercises (of course doing 5 times more than suggested, so actually slowing recovery), there is little improvement, or worse still an additional symptom. Only now do we finally give in and head to the physio for a proper hands on assessment.

At this point we can’t resist telling the therapist what the problem is and how to do their job, and that the treatments normally used don’t work for you. 45 minutes later, you come out of the session with a clear idea of what the genuine problem is (if the therapist is knows their stuff), and with a course of action to ease the symptoms and most importantly to correct the cause of the problem. You will likely need a few follow sessions, and have a good few weeks of rehab (depending on the ailment), but at least you have a clear vision on when you will be up and running properly again.

The trouble with this approach is that you have wasted 4 weeks of sub standard training which has offered little physiological benefit, and at the same time been through a gamut of emotions most likely including frustration and denial – neither of which are all that healthy when training for your next event.

So while it may be a great thing to run with your heart (paraphrasing Dean Karnazes), when it comes to training, train with your head.

When you have the first signs of an injury, by all means do the normal self treatment of icing and resting, but if the injury doesn’t improve quickly go and seek professional help.  Yes it may cost a few dollars, but you will save an inordinate amount in time, quality training and mental stress. There could be nothing worse than having to pull out of a race you have been preparing for all year, for the sake of a visit to your friendly physio.

By adopting a sensible approach you will be back on the trails sooner, and quite possibly stronger with better form and a lower risk of future injury. Try and look at an injury as a positive, as it is better to happen in training than in racing and, unless the injury was cause by a trauma, it would have caught up with you eventually anyway. You may even find that a proper professional assessment and remedial training program could identify other potential issues before they impede your training progress.

Another benefit of an injury is that it can enforce you to take your foot off the gas and have a recovery week.  It’s very difficult mentally to accept that you should have an easy week every now and then, especially when you have been clocking up a lot of miles, but the benefits are proven.
Tylana, my friendly physio!

I’ve found that it’s encouraged me to look for alternative training sessions such as cross training, yoga or weight sessions. All of these are great for keeping the body strong and preventing injury.

The reason I post this now is that I’ve been so focused on running a lot of miles of late, that I’d let my weight and core exercise training slip. As a result I’ve suffered a minor overuse injury (I think!) which I’ll be getting confirmed and treated by my training partner and Physio this week.

A quick note on choosing a physio (and podiatrist if you need one) is that you should always try and find a therapist who runs themselves, or at least is sympathetic to the runners mind. They will appreciate that being told to rest up for 2 weeks isn’t going to sit well with the average runner, and will design a remedial program that encourages active rest which enhances the healing process.

Run strong and run long,


“Good people are good because they’ve come to wisdom through failure. We get very little wisdom from success.” – William Saroyan

Training 13-9-2010 (7.5km trail, Recovery run)

Friday, September 10, 2010

Don’t beat yourself up training

When training to run a marathon, ultramarathon or any significant running event, you want to do your best in the race; otherwise it’s no different from a training run. So to make sure you can do your best you trawl through books and websites and Runners World back copies trying to find the perfect training schedule for your chosen distance and your target time. The truth is these schedules are pretty accurate, and have been tried and tested by many people and over many years.

I know this as I followed the sub 3 hour marathon training schedule for about 80% of my training and hey presto did a 3:12:00! Had a followed it 100% I am sure I would have done a 2:59:59.

The challenge any runner has when following a schedule, is exactly that. We all have busy lives, jobs, families and other pressures on our time, and it isn’t easy to fit everything around our running.

So what do we do?  We should complete the prescribed 5 weekly sessions which include an interval session, a hill session, a tempo run, a recovery run and a long slow distance run. In reality we have a busy couple of days at work, and then it rains, and then you have to watch the final of “The X Factor” and all of a sudden there are 3 days left to complete the sessions. We then cram a week’s worth of training into the time we have left, making sure that at least we get all the miles in.

Seems fair enough, we’ve ticked the box for mileage. However, what happens now is that we can suffer the effects of condensed overtraining – tiredness, susceptible to injury, tight muscles, mental lows, etc.  We opt not to listen to our bodies cries to be given a rest, and instead attempt to squeeze more training in to compensate for a poor week, and to somehow satisfy our conscience that we’ve been putting in the hard yards.

Don’t get me wrong, training is meant to be hard, you are meant to get out of your comfort zone, else how else would you improve but there needs to be some checks and balances along the way.

With our strong desires to hit our chosen goal we all beat ourselves up when we don’t train as much as we think we should. If this is the situation for you and you find yourself always trying to catch up with your training schedule then it is time to readjust your goals.

More people drop out of races before they even get to the start line than drop out during a race. The reason for this can usually be traced back to having a strong will and high expectations (both admirable qualities), but unfortunately they don’t have the time and priorities required to prepare their body and mind sufficiently for the task at hand.

Now I’m not saying that a proven schedule needs to be followed to every tiny detail. It’s OK to miss the odd session or maybe to do a little more on those days when you just feel great, but there is a limit to the flexibility in a program. You are better to miss a session than to try and make up for it in another – you may even find you perform better for it as you shouldn’t under estimate the benefit of rest (See post "Out Running Overtraining")

The danger comes when you start missing multiple sessions and think that’s OK, but clearly you’ll just be under prepared. Yes you’ll get to the start line, but don’t expect to hit your target times.

It all comes down to having goals that are achievable and realistic given your race preparation.  By adjusting your expectations and goals for the event in line with the training you have been able to do, you will have a far more satisfying race.

Remember, there’s always next year!

Next year for me is about 9 weeks away, the Great North Walk 100miler. I have had to miss a couple of sessions this week, but I was due a gentler week anyway!

Don’t beat yourself up; running 100 miles of trails will do that for you.

Happy Running,


“Enjoy when you can, and endure when you must.” – Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

Training 9-9-2010 (9.4km Trail)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

What can Ultra running teach you?

I came across this video clip of Ultramarathon great, Anton Krupicka promoting the New Balance Minimus Trail shoe. What I like about it, is that is isn’t really about the shoe, which is unusual for a promotional video for a running shoe, but it’s more about Krupicka’s motivations for running ultra distances.

For him, running is the simplest pure of self expression, which he further simplifies by running shirtless and with his trade mark Jesus like beard and hair. He chooses to run in as simple a manner as possible to enhance his experience and to get away from the complexities of modern day living.

Now while this may not be for everyone, and indeed it may also not be practical in some climates, I think his ideal is valid for anyone for running ultras.  He does say that for him it’s about running 100miles or more, “anyone can run 50miles or 100kms” (just loved the way he let that roll off the tongue!).  The reason for this is that running an ultramarathon is about not giving up, persevering through mental and physical barriers, “everything hurts after 60-70 miles”.

I have to agree with the hurt comment, and I think it is because it hurts that you are forced to focus your mind and body completely on one thing – just keeping moving forward. Only when your mind and body are so total immersed in this challenge do you truly forget about the stresses of everyday life. 

That is one of the main reasons I like to run, as there is a kind of spiritual side to things at these points, when you are managing a struggle between conscious and subconscious minds, and the satisfaction of taking control of both.  You cannot do this without laser like focus on the task.

What I do find is that when you have managed to take control of all the voices in your head and the aches and pains from your body, and you begin to forget the hurt, your mind focuses on the important things in life.  It’s happened to me consistently as I run beyond 75kms.

I don’t believe that anyone who, when they have been running for 8 hours or more, is thinking about a presentation they have to give to an important client, or if they should buy new clothes to impress a new group of friends, or perhaps the fluctuations in the stock market!

Ultra distance running, especially when out on the trails away from civilisation, is like a form of psychotherapy, stripping back the layers to what is really important.

I just wonder if there comes a point where you run so far that those feelings and thoughts become a permanent fixture, rather than being brought back to earth with a firm thud on a Monday morning (as a pile of paperwork is dropped in your in tray).

I don’t know quite how far you have to run to achieve this, but if I find out I’ll let you know!

Happy Running


“Keep away from people who belittle your ambitions. Small people will always do that, but the really great make you feel that you too can become great.” - Mark Twain

Training 5-9-2010 (21.1km Trail)
Training 7-9-2010 (25km Road/Trail)
Training 8-9-2010 (16km Trail)

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Happy Running Revival

Today with my training I actually took some of my own running advice after reading my previous post (An Old Ultra Running Saying).  I realise that I had got myself into a rut with my training. Looking back I’d done over 100kms this week without a long slow distance run, just 5 similar runs of about 20kms each.

So I decided to ditch my back hydration pack and just run with a couple of water bottles, and to go for a (relatively) short fast run, a kind of tempo session but faster.

To push me along I set off for the top of Mt Tinbeerwah about 30 mins before sunset. This is a 7km run to the top with a 250m+ vertical climb along forest tracks. I knew that I would be pushing it for daylight on the return leg, which was just the sort of non-negotiable motivation I needed.

I actually surprised myself when I set of around 4:30min/km pace, not something I’ve done since my road marathon days, and certainly not on this sort of terrain. I felt really good, and was springing over rocks and branches, the same ones that I hit on every occasion yesterday morning with tired feeling legs.

In the last km to the top there is a stretch of road before you have to scramble over rocks to get to the lookout.  There was a car hub cap in the middle of the road which I put to one side (I’ll come back to this later).

When I reach the top there were 5 people sitting down enjoying the scenery, conversation and a glass of red. They were a little surprised to see me, and more surprised that I’d run all the way up, not just the last few hundred metres from the car park.  I hadn’t planned to stop for more than a minute, but enjoyed their company, and the offer of a glass of wine (which I refused on the basis of my own safety running back in the dark).

I had all the usual questions about what I’m training for and the shocked responses when they hear that it’s for 100mile races. The conversation continued and I mentioned a charity that I have run for previously, and that I have a big event scheduled for 12 months time where I’ll be raising funds for SIDS and Kids again. These guys were just great, so interested in what I was doing, genuinely supportive of what it was about, and so prepared to share their food and drink. It was very tempting to have finished the run there and then, joined them for the rest of the evening, tuck into a glass or two of wine, and accept their offer of a lift home.

Anyway, it turns out the hub cap from the car was theirs, and it was a hire car, so they were doubly happy to have recovered it saving a massive penalty fee. I said I would pick it up and rest it against a post on the layby a little further down the track.  As I left one of the group came over to me, reached into his wallet and gave me all the notes he had for the charity run I had told them about. 

This absolutely blew me away.  The generosity and kindness of these people towards me and what I stood for was heart warming.  With an extra spring in my step (which is dangerous when running over bare rocks in the dark and no torch) I departed to such positive, encouraging and flattering comments that 3 hours later and I still have a great feeling inside.

The return leg of this session was very different. I had hoped to run fast, but it was just too dangerous on most of the track as it is steep, and covered with loose rocks and roots. I effectively ran the last 5kms in pitch darkness, having to look up to the gap in the trees to get an idea on the turns from what little of the night sky I could make out. On the steep sections I adopted the style of a small child pretending to be an aeroplane, with arms spread wide for balance. The rest of the time was like running by Braille, having to sense the changes in the surface with my feet and adjusting my gait almost instantaneously to avoid a tumble.

Amazingly I got home unscathed. I really must take my torch with me next time.

The point is that the variety in the run and the experience I had with the people I met just re-energized my running. I’ve increased my training significantly of late and was starting to get stale. This is just the tonic I needed.

So a big thank you to my friends at the summit, sorry I didn’t get your names.  You have given me faith in the human race, and I now have a far stronger belief that I will meet the $50k target for SIDS and Kids over the next 12 months.

Very Happy Running!

“The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather a lack of will”

Training 2-9-2010 (23.7km Trail)
Training 3-9-2010 (20.9km Trail)
Training 4-9-2010 (14.4km Trail)

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

An Old Ultra Running Saying

I finished my sunrise run on Monday (a great way to start the week) plugged in my Garmin Forerunner 305 and downloaded the session. Everything looked pretty normal, and I was happy with the way it looked. I then compared it to my previous weeks running as I have been increasing my mileage of late, and I wanted to check my pace and Heart Rate to keep an eye out for signs of overtraining as I had been feeling pretty tired between runs.
Worth getting out of bed for

When I checked the figures I thought there must be a problem with my Garmin (I thought that maybe I had been overworking it!) as my last two sessions had exactly the same time down to the second. The route I had taken was the same so you may expect it to be similar, but not identical. Anyway after more careful scrutiny it appeared that I had done the same route in exactly the same time in succession.

This made me think about my pace in general, and how much we do get into a groove when we run. On out and back sections of this route I can see my tracks in the sand and my stride length is very consistent too. It is like you are running in a trance-like state, a kind of auto pilot.

My recent training runs have just been about putting some miles into my legs to build my base, without any specific sessions such as a tempo, fartlek or hill work. So I must assume that this is that pace at which my body is comfortable.

The feeling is certainly that I could just run forever at this pace when doing a 20-30Km run. There must come a point though at which your performance will drop off. I’ve been to that point and beyond on a number of occasions, usually in a race.

The problem is this. On the start line of an ultramarathon you’re pumped with adrenalin, you’ve been training for weeks, months or more, you’re surrounded by excited and enthusiastic runners, and you can’t help but feed off the buzz. The starter gun goes off (or as is more typical for an ultra, someone shouts go and you start your watch) and you jog away settling into your normal rhythmic pace that you have been so comfortable with in training.

At the first checkpoint you look and feel great and you’re ahead of schedule, your support team are in awe! By checkpoint 2 you’re even further ahead of schedule and you still feel great. Your mind starts thinking of belt buckles, personal bests, winning age divisions and sprinting home.

All of a sudden you start to slow, your feet no longer keep pace with the tune you’d had in your head for the past 4 hours, and a mild panic sets in and you see the belt buckle drifting out of reach.

The reason of course is quite simple, and that is you’re tired and have used up more of your energy reserves than you should. You have bonked. I’ll go into bonking more in other posts, but the answer is that you can train and manage your body to avoid or at least delay the dreaded bonk!

So what is the message of this posting? There are two. Firstly you aren’t going to do full distance in training, so don’t expect to run at that pace in a race.

Secondly it comes back to a common quote in the world of Ultra running. When I first heard it I thought it was intended as a joke to the uninitiated, but experience has revealed it to be an ultra running truth...”start out slow and taper off!”

So enjoy the atmosphere of the start, and don’t be fooled early in the race by being ahead of schedule and feeling good – it will soon pass!

Happy running

“Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so” – Douglas Adams

Training 28-8-2010 (19.3km Trail)

Training 30-8-2010 (19.3km Trail)

Training 31-8-2010 (21.1km Trail)