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