Monday, September 23, 2013

RACE REPORT - Yurrebilla 56km Ultra Marathon 2013

The Ultra Anniversary.............

Exactly 12 months ago I lined up under the historic Belair sign embarking on what was to be my first Ultra Marathon.  That day changed my life, thrusting me into the ultra world.

I learned a lot that day; not just about running, but about myself emotionally and spiritually.

Current form is questionable as the lead up training being heavily hampered by a new job taking a huge amount of time to get going, and also an ongoing issue with my belly going bad on me during all my long runs.

If I was going to make it today, the belly was going to have to play the game.  Some weeks ago, this single item stood out as a major red flag.  The issue with being under prepared with training wasn't a major concern as I did the same thing last year, but if the belly was going to act in the same way it has for the last 9 months, it would probably result in my first ever DNF.

So in the week before the race, I'm off to see Stephanie Gaskell at Nutrition Strategies, who is not only an elite ultra marathon runner in her own right, but a specialist nutritionist.  Who better qualified to attend to my problems.  Steph kindly offered to work with me on the bigger picture with the charity run to Melbourne in support of Crohns Disease as her business is so closely aligned.

An hour later, and a whole new outlook on nutrition planning (against all the rules I've been working with to date) I'm off to the grocery store to stock up on my pre event and on event fuel sources.

The day comes by quick.  I used to be so much more prepared but I've become a bit complacent lately.  I arrive just over an hour early, just in time to see one of my clients set off on her first trail ultra.  Having an almost identical preparation to myself last year I'm sure she's going to have a tough but successful day ahead.  "Good luck Grace" and she's off.

Now it's my turn, standing on that same spot, but now registered in the group A, I was feeling a little like an imposter when looking around at some of the faces and knowing their ability.  But too late now, I'm in and the slower group start waves are long gone.  "C'mon Matt, you've got this. You've done this one before so you know what you're up against"

I set my drop bags down and double check it's all laid out in the easiest format to 'grab and go'.  Shortly after, Wayne, a long term friend and another of my running clients, from Sydney arrives also for his first trail ultra.  Looking well prepared but anxious it's obvious his mind has been spinning for days.  Following Wayne's progress over recent months I'm convinced this is the only time I'll see him until the finish line.

"10 minutes until start" I overhear from a conversation nearby.  Wow, really? I thought we still had ages; as I double check against my watch...... So it is.

Fuel belt on, food, water, a quick pic with Wayne, watch is on, "HOOOOOOOOOOT" and off we go to the air horn.

"Right, here we go. Take it easy. There's a little bit of climbing to kick us of for a few km's then we go down."  Downhill will remain to be my strength.  "Conserve on the ups Matt"

I settle in to my watch rather than watching the crowd in front knowing this field are much stronger than I am.  If I get caught up in their 'wash' I'm in trouble.

30 minutes and I'm in to the first 5km drink stop.  "Ok, feeling comfortable. Let's pick up a little time on this downhill for a few km's before the 15km's of incline approaching."

Time to get some food in.... 20g carbs for now just to keep on top of things.  Must get up to 40g by the 1hr mark.

Whilst it's a bit of a climb, we are all well rewarded for our efforts with the stunning view of the entire city covered with nothing but blue skies.  This is why I run trails.  This right here is enough to take the mind away from the daunting miles yet to be covered.......

Before long, whilst allowing myself to soak up the amazing views of the Adelaide Hills I come into the first main checkpoint at approximately 21kms.  "Ok, 2:18, I'm way out on last years time and feeling good."  A little worked due to the heavy climb, but reasonably ok considering it's highest peak in South Australia.  A good friend of mine who's offered to support both Wayne and I for the day greets me there with my changeover bottles and my drop bag with the food for the next leg.  "Thanks Greg" and off I go.  I remembered spending about 3-4 minutes there last year so I was determined to keep each of these aid stops to under a minute.... 49 seconds and I'm out of there.....

A Few km's ahead I see the familiar bright red hair of Grace.  "Oh no, I shouldn't be seeing her this early in the race.  Something is wrong!"......... I slowly pull up next to her, to find her quite emotional and clearly in huge pain.  I offer what support and advice I can at such a time but shortly after I push on.  While I'd like to see her complete this tough task, I'm convinced here that today is not her day.  I find later that she forced out an amazing 10 more kilometres before pulling out.  I'm sure every one of those extra steps will be burned into her memory for life......... Well done Grace, we'll see you there next year.

From memory, there's a small amount of descent and climb just ahead before HORSNELLS GULLY.........  There's 3 sections of this race that I remember most from last year, and this is one of them.  A long steep descent, before the nasty climb back out.  "Time to rock the downhill so I've got some time to play with getting back out of here."  I pass a fair number through the technical, rocky single track thinking that today may result in my first real stack.  Thankfully I reach the bottom unscathed.....

The climb is as remembered.  However I manage a load better than I last attempted.  (I begin thanking Steph right here).  Something seems to be going the right way for a change.  Not to mention stopping to take a photo bomb of a wandering koala along the now wider track helped take the mind away from the near 45 degree incline.

I need to be out of Horsnells in under 4hours if I'm to have a shot at a sub 7hr time knowing the trek ahead.  Hitting the top at 3:56 gave me some relief, and more to the point that within seconds of reaching the top and it returning back down again I'm back into a solid rhythm.  This is great!!!!!  (I thank Steph yet again)

OK, so it's downhill now until the 38km aid station.  Let's get some time back.  Pace is good, belly is good, quads a little fatigued from pushing hard on the downs but they're manageable.  I stick with the fuelling plan and push on.


I come into the 38km checkpoint feeling exceptionally better than last year.  I have a distinct memory of 'struggletown' at this point last year, so to be running a steady pace right now is a huge uplift.  Sub 7 is definitely there. YES!!!!!!

Greg kindly greets me at the aid stop, helping me grab my food for this final leg, a quick swig of ginger beer to help keep the belly on the right level, and off I go with Greg telling me that Wayne is only 2 minutes ahead.  "Really?"  I thought he'd be at least 30 minutes ahead.  He must be struggling because he is clearly a stronger runner than I am.  I suspect he may be saving something for the end as I know he's studied these maps in depth.  This aid stop costs me 1 minute 4 seconds so that's ok.

Back into rhythm straight away but I know this section is about to get warm.  Last year in almost identical conditions, there was something about the climb along the western face of the mountain that seemed to make it feel 10 degrees hotter.  A few minutes and I come into the always entertaining 42km drink station, famous for outrageous costumes and Coca-Cola as the preferred beverage.  Not on the plan as I'd been convinced to follow the agenda to the letter, I'm almost forced to take on some coke as they're basically out of water.  "Oh no, this is not what I wanted to here coming into the hottest part of the race, and the next stop is 7kms away."  (That said, the mere fact that they have a drink stop here is amazing due to it's remote, UPHILL location, far from any car access, so thank you especially to these hardworking volunteers)

I decide to suck it up and put in what I can through Morialta.  I know this section well as I've run more than a dozen times.  "only 14kms to go.  I know if I push up this hill, I can afford to expel what energy I have knowing the long descent after is a strong point of mine.

Just as the top of Morialta becomes in reaching distance I see Wayne walking up one of the last descents.  I yell out from 50m behind o let him know of my presence.  We share a couple of words before he decides to push on up the hill taking his lead to around 100-150m before pulling back to a walk up the final climb.  I decide to reserve a little here given the last little incline is steep but short.  There's no point burning what I have on such a short hill when it may only gain me a few seconds.  Let's save that for the 6-7 km descent. 

We hit the top......... YES. I know from here I have only one more challenge..... The infamous BLACKHILL!!!!

Last year I decided to take it easy on this decline as a means of saving myself for the excruciating final climb, but this year I decide to work with my strength and punch out some low 5min km's.  (I know these aren't fast in real terms but at this stage on tired legs it's a solid struggle).  Again I think of how Steph's planning has clearly paid off.......  How is it that I can still run this pace when last year I had nothing?????

I run out of water about 2km away from the drink station.  I see a couple of emergency volunteers carrying their own personal water bottle and half hesitate to ask for a splash, but pride keeps me from doing so and I push on.

Greg....... what a sight for sore eyes.  I wasn't expecting to see him until the end.  I'm in and out, topped up and water soaked over the head in less than 40 seconds.  "Let's get this bastard outta the way"

Last year it took me nearly an hour to get from here to the finish, and I know I finish really hard and strong on the final descent last year so with 6:10 on the clock, I'd better work hard from here to secure a sub seven.......  Chanting "Sub 7....... Sub 7......Sub 7" and random points on the up.....

There's 3 parts to this sucker......... the never ending 30degree climb for a few kms, followed by a steep 45 degree mental tester, followed again by some further rolling hills that catch you out when you first think that you've got to the top.  I'm not sure what bit is worse, but in all they add up to one major hurt fest after 50kms in the legs.  "C'mon Matt, a few minutes of pain and then you're on the down"

The final 3kms is one of my favourite trails to run locally, and I always make habit of no matter how I'm feeling to just suck up everything I've got and let loose down a tight, winding single track.  It's a mix between knowing there's no more climbs, the finish is within crawling distance and the mere fact that it's an awesome section of the trail.  I hit the entrance to this track next to another runner, and I mumble as I pass by "OK, 3 to go, time to suck it up and let loose"

If there's anywhere I'm gonna stack it, it's here.  Legs like jelly, quads burning like I'd put deep heat in my undies, but no time to look at the watch due to the winding, tree lined descent.  "sub 7........ sub 7........"

I come to the familiar steep rocky section that until now thought it wasn't runnable.  Leaping from one boulder down to another looking 3-4 steps ahead I pass 2 runners murmuring something how I was crazy (which is a compliment in my eyes, lol) all the while thinking if I stack it here, there's no way I'd be avoiding a trip to the hospital.  Yes, I've rock-hopped down avoiding a broken ankle or worse.

Here's the final few hundred meters on the access road to the final line.  I hear the crowd which gives the buzz I need to burn to the end.  Pushing beyond the barriers, everything burning, I empty an already dry tank.  The bubbly character of Karen over the PA is reeling me in as I push through at low 3min pace (of which I knew it was a strong finish but didn't realise so strong until reviewing the Garmin), and there's Sadie to slide the hard earned medal over my dripping head. 6:50:47!!!!!!!!!! YEEEEHAAAAAA. I did it.  I can't believe it!!!!!

Greg immediately comes up, I'm sure saying something encouraging but to be honest I heard nothing.  There could've been a marching band there and I'd have no idea.  I found a clear spot, and flopped down flat on my back, while Greg kindly grabbed me some refreshments.

I get up a few minutes later to have Wayne cross the line on his first amazing adventure.  What a moment for him.  I can see he's hurting but deep down in awe of what he's just accomplished.  Well done Wayne, that moment will be with you for life!!!!!

Yurrebilla 2013 was everything I'd hoped it be, when only a few weeks ago I was dreading even taking off due to the recent issues.  This event is amazing on so many levels.  The terrain is terribly challenging with the volume of ascent and descent per kilometre in the higher range of difficulty compared to most ultra's, but the vibrant culture that has been instilled to this event over the years brings with it an experience that all runners need to be apart of at least once in their lives.

I'd like to thank Greg for his amazing support throughout the day, the organisers for their flawless coordination and to no end Stephanie Gaskell for not only getting me through this, but ensuring a huge PB at a time I half considered pulling out.

With this now behind me, and the confidence I can solve the belly issue, Yurrebilla 2014 will be a whole new game!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Friday, May 24, 2013

RACE DAY TIPS FOR DISTANCE RUNNERS: What to do in the days leading up to the big day

You've done the hard work.......  You've consistently dragged yourself out of bed early in the freezing cold to commit to your training, or went out on those hot, humid days to not get off track.  So how do you make the most of the event and capitalise on your efforts?

Here's my top 10 must do's as race day closes in:

#10:  REGISTER EARLY:  Firstly, registering early commits you to the event, thus committing you to your training on a more specific basis.  Often the reason why people get off track with their training.  Secondly, you don't want the frustration of doing all the hard work, to find that there's been a sell out by the time you get online with your credit card in hand.

#9:  WEAR YOUR RACE GEAR:  It's no doubt common knowledge by most that you should 'bed' your shoes in to avoid blisters or other nasty uncomfortable surprises on race day so I'm not going to nag on this point.  What IS however often overlooked is your other gear.  It may come as a surprise that shoes are not the only thing you wear to a race, (well for the non-nudist folk anyway lol).  With that in mind, items such as your shirt, shorts, or socks can play havoc should you not test them out prior.  Your new fancy 'highly recommended' socks may have a seam that creates a point of friction, turning to blisters.  Your shirt may just happen to rub under the arm causing chaffing, etc etc.  You get the idea.

Work out what you intend to wear for the event, and wear this during some of your longer runs.

#8:  FAMILIARISE YOURSELF WITH THE COURSE:  There's not much point in running 50km's a week on flat bitumen, just to find that it's a hilly, technical single track trail run.  Or vice versa.  Ideally, if it's a local course, try to go out for a few sessions on the actual route to get familiar with the terrain, turns, or other conditions that may throw some interesting challenges at you on the day.  You have enough to contend with on the day let alone having random obstacles come up along the way.

Most well organised events will have on their website a course map and sometimes some course notes if it's fairly lengthy and/or challenging.  Be sure to check these out, and especially where you are able to park on the morning.  CBD events can sometimes see people missing the start of their race as they didn't consider parking restrictions or the sheer volume of entrants taking up what parking may have been there.

#7:  TAPER DOWN ACCORDING TO YOUR RACE & TRAINING:  Don't overtrain!!!!!  In fact, it's a widely accepted rule amongst distance runners that "it's better to be undertrained than overtrained at the starting line".  I find myself sounding a little hypocritical as I rite this point, sitting here majorly overtrained 2 days out of a marathon.  The purpose for this is because I was not actually training specifically for this event, but merely entering as I didn't want to miss it.

The length of tapering, and strategy behind it will vary depending on a few variables.  The event length, the amount of training miles your doing, and your personal recovery rate (which varies from one person to another).  By considering these items, one can strategize their way to their perfect taper plan.

#6:  PRACTICE WHAT YOU'LL EAT:  Don't make the stupid mistake that myself along with many others have made on race day by eating something on the morning or during an event that you haven't tested on training runs.  Just because you've eaten this particular item before and it hasn't caused any issues, that doesn't mean it's ok for you whilst running.  The tummy can become quite sensitive for some people (myself included) and can make an intended PB possibility turn to an utter mess of discomfort and misery should you not manage this item carefully.

Be sure to get into a routine of WHAT you eat, and WHEN you eat it in conjunction with your training runs.  Find what works best for you on your tempo runs as well as your long runs; as your race day will be somewhere between the conditions of these.

#5:  HYDRATE CORRECTLY:  The importance of good water levels in the body is often overlooked in terms of performance.  The fact is, water is vital for energy transfer through the bloodstream, so should you be under hydrated before and/or during the event, you will suffer.

Good hydration does not start on the morning of the race by downing 2 litre's of water.  For proper hydration the body needs 3-4 days to take in and stock up levels.

With all this in mind, it must be noted here not to OVER hydrate either.  Over hydrating, or Hyponatremia, occurs when the body is over-saturated with water creating an imbalance of vital electrolytes, with most importance on sodium levels. 

A good sign is (a tad bit graphic but needs to be said) your urine should be a real pale yellow colour for the 3 days leading up to the event.  (ideally at all times but that's not always manageable).  Should it be a bright yellow, you are under hydrated; whereas completely clear may be a sign of over hydrating.  Be sure to manage this item closely.

#4:  SLEEP:  The night before the big day can be a little unnerving.  So much so that insomnia is a common threat to a runners plans.  The good news here is studies have shown that the sleep you get 2 nights before the event plays a higher role than that of the night immediately before the event.  ie, If your race is to take place on a Sunday morning, be sure to get a good nights sleep on Friday night.  Should you struggle to get some shut eye on the Saturday night, it's not going to affect your performance as much as you may think.

The longer your event, the more important this aspect becomes.  Not necessarily for physical performance, but more so the mental side.  For example, if you've got a marathon or more on the cards, the mental endurance for these events is critical.  Be sure to consider this need and match the supply to the demand.

#3:  FUEL UP ACCORDING TO YOUR EVENT:  There is a heap of contradicting arguments out there as to whether 'carbo loading' is beneficial or detrimental to your performance.  Not having a PhD myself nor conducted detailed studies it would be inappropriate for me to say which is right or wrong on a broad scale.  However, what I can say is that energy levels become of vital importance when you intend to put in 100% on race day.  The longer and/or more intense the race, the more important this topic becomes.

It is my personal plan to fuel up well 48 hours out from the event, mainly because I do not intend carrying unnecessary weight in the gut that the big 'night before pasta party' can do to you.  Digestion takes time so don't think that because you ate that huge bowl of spaghetti the night before that it will of great benefit.

Limited fuelling could see you run flat before you finish, making those last few km's quite challenging indeed.

Overdoing this aspect can do you a disservice by adding extra weight, and also requiring the body to be utilising vital energy supplies to processing and digesting that food, rather than utilising this energy for your intended purpose:  Surging towards that finish line!!!!

Be sure to not only consider the energy itself, but also vital minerals and vitamins that the body will need throughout and after the event.  This item becomes more and more crucial the longer the event length.  Potassium, magnesium and sodium to name a few play a huge role in keeping the body functions and muscle contractions in order, and become depleted very quickly in marathon and ultra marathon runners.  Be sure to adequately stock up on these before and possibly during the event if conditions require it.

#2:  PRE PACK YOUR GEAR:  Don't leave it to the morning of the race to go finding that odd sock or locate where the kids have put your race bib.  These morning arte often an early rising as it is, let along having to deal with getting all this together as well.  You want you pre race routine to be as comfortable and easy going as possible.  Lay all your gear out in an easy to see, clear space and check that your typical breakfast supplies are in stock.

Allow yourself every opportunity to get the head into the right space rather than running around crazily looking for your gear all morning, and having to rush to the start line all hyped up.

#1:  GET UP EARLY:  Set 2 alarms, one being across the room so you have to get out of bed to turn it off.  Firstly, if you're like me, it takes the mind and body a little while to fully get into action on those early mornings.  But more importantly why I get up earlier than needed for the race, is you need to have breakfast around 2 hours before start time.  This will give the gut plenty of time to digest the food properly, so this process is not having to occur while you're trying to push up that nasty climb.

Again, having all this time on your hands before the race allows you to just relax and enjoy the experience which is essentially the reason why we run isn't it????

With the above tips in mind, you're now ready to go about your race in best form.  You've trained well, and now you've prepared yourself in such a way to give you every opportunity towards a rewarding outcome.  Whether this is a podium, a PB or merely a memorable finish.

Plan ahead and you're sure to be rewarded!!!!!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

TRAINING FOR YOUR FIRST HALF MARATHON: The journey into distance running

The humble half marathon has in recent years outgrown all other event distances by far.  Many are labelling this event as the 'ideal race distance'.  Maybe it's because it's tagged with the age old 'Marathon' brand, but more reachable for the less crazy folk who don't wish to put in the training that the full version demands.

Don't get me wrong, I'm certainly not suggesting this is easy.  In fact it will still offer quite a challenge if you're coming from the typical 5-10km running range.  21.1km is a fair distance by any standard, and to think that just anybody can get up and do it without obstacles would be na├»ve.

Firstly, I'd like to add that most people looking up this type of info are already into the running gig a bit (or more) and researching info for continual improvement.  Which is a great audience for this topic.  Should you be perusing through here coming from a ZERO running base, can I highly recommend to take this info in your stride (pun intended, lol), and look towards building up a base level of weekly mileage first and get through to at least running 8-10km's single runs comfortably.

So how do you make the leap up to the half?  In one word "strategically".......... Not the word you were expecting?  haha, I bet not.  Why do I say this rather than typical key words like "hard work, consistency, dedication," etc?  I say this because it is my personal belief that your success in finishing your first half marathon doesn't have anything to do with the race itself.  It's whether you get through your training successfully without injury.  If you find yourself arriving at the tapering stage of your training schedule, you're sure to finish on the day. (assuming you don't come down with a virus the day before, but that would be just bad luck!!!!)  Sadly, many people don't make it to this point.

You can work as hard as a mule, and be as committed as an Olympian, but unless you can 'think on your feet' as you fumble your way through your training you are at risk of becoming part of the growing statistics of people who don't even make it to the starting line..........  That's certainly not an ideal position to be in.

So what I'm saying here is, it's not HOW MUCH you train that gets you there, but HOW you train.  The 2 most important things you should invest in from the outset is:
  1. Shoes:  Get professionally fitted and preferably, gait analysed.  Get this right early can save you big time down the track
  2. Training Programme:  And by training programme, I mean a proper, personally designed programme based around YOU.  Where you're at now, what you can and can't commit to, and assessing ALL the variables that you as an individual throw into the mix.  I'm certainly not referring one of those online, 5 minute responses that spit out the 'ideal training programme' simply because you put in the event date and length that you're doing.
Simple........ I don't know you, what your circumstances are, what your goals are, or any of the vital data that makes up the backbone of your programme.

There are a few aspects you need to consider going into a half that you don't normally get faced with on the 10-12km sessions.  Firstly, the time on feet is obviously double.  Not just for the event, but again in the training.  For a first half, you're looking at race times of somewhere between 1:50:00 & 2:30:00.  Where most people come unstuck in training is with injuries relating to soft tissue damage and/or joints between the feet to hips.  These are the areas of most concern for continuous, slow, quality development.  Sadly, I see way too often, posts and other random comments from people who have pulled up injured only weeks before their first big event.  There's a fine line you need to follow between taking it easy, and pushing the body hard enough to encourage development.  This line is easy to manage on 5k-12k training...... Not so easy to recognise with half marathons to marathons. 

One bad decision in the outset of your journey, may determine your fate.  By this I mean, just because you are training, it doesn't mean this training is useful and/or helpful.  To validate your efforts, make sure you utilise the proven sciences of previous research and experience.  Get yourself a QUALITY TRAINING PROGRAMME. 

Next is to make sure that you make it work within your personal, social, educational and career commitments.  Training can take up a fair whack of your free time.  Do not go into this blind!!!! You need to assess and commit to set times that your training runs will take place.  Be sure to present this plan to your family, boss, or others that you are accountable to and express just how much this goal means to you.  It is important for these people to know what you are spending this time doing and more to the point, WHY!

Should this be your first half marathon, your first goal is to finish.  Ideally, you may set yourself a target of finishing without stopping.  Seriously, who cares what your time is???  Chances are, you won't remember what this time is in a few years, but you sure will remember that finish line!!!!  Go for that.  Times/pacing etc will become more of a focus as you continue to develop further after you finish this one.

You sure don't want to make your long term memory of this event a horrible, painful, recollection of how you cramped up, short of breath and struggling the whole way through.  Just chill out, soak up the atmosphere, learn from some of the experienced runners and have a blast.  Maybe even share the track with a friend and plan to stick it out together.

To help you keep your cool in this race and not run off as though it's the one and only you'll ever do, why not commit yourself to the next one first?  With this in your mind through the race, you're more likely to hold the right mindset, and follow the previous comments of taking it easy, and utilising the experience correctly.

Secondly, it'll help you keep your consistency moving beyond your race.  Sadly, some people lose a lot of their training efforts post race as they didn't have their sights set on anything else.  Then they decide a little later and have to start all over again.  "If you don't like starting over, don't stop."  Of course a well deserved rest and recovery period is required after a tough session, but you only need a few days to a week for most people.  Even during this time, it's generally useful to have some light activity after 48 hours to help loosen things up.  Leave it 2-3 weeks with nothing as you mull over what you've just achieved and you're heading back towards square one.

"If you don't like starting over, don't stop."

If the next half near you is too long away, sign up for anything else.  a 5k, 12k, whatever.  Get involved and stay on track!

Completing your first half marathon is an awesome achievement.  Let's make it enjoyable at the same time.  It doesn't matter who you are or how much you love running.  Sometimes, the training can become a bit much.  So if you find this, don't worry, you're not alone.  The vital thing about training is it's consistency.  However, today you're just really not in the mood for your tough intervals session........  Obviously it's great if you can stick to your programme as much as possible but if sticking to it 100% is going to end up meaning that you pull out completely because it's becoming too much to the point where you're not enjoying yourself anymore and you're dreading the sight of your runners, maybe it's better you just go out for a nice, relaxing meditational jog.  It's not to plan, but it's far better than doing nothing!

Like I said to begin with, be strategic about how you go into your first half.  In fact, be strategic about running in general.  Running should not be easy, but it should not be a chore either.  Lace up, drink up, build up and get going..................... See you at the finish line!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Adelaide 24hr Ultra Marathon - 2013 (pre event training and preparation)

Lap running again.......... YAY! not......... On the 13th/14th July 2013 will be my first attempt at a 24hr Ultra.

It won't be completely new ground for me with having a 12hr behind me, as well as having trail ultra's of 16hr finishing times.  That said, I don't care who you are; 24hrs is a mighty challenge.  As the saying goes, "it doesn't get any easier, you just get faster"........  I think this is a good example here.

Assuming I keep moving through the 24hr period (my main goal), I estimate based on my current form and fatigue rate, I'll be looking at circa 160km's for the tally.  Anything above this would be great.  180km would be a dream right now but as I will not be tapering for this event, but more using it as a training tool, I have a feeling fatigue will pull me back short of this in the final hours.

To be blunt, within minutes of finishing my first 12hr 'lap running' event a few months ago, I swore I was not going to enter this 24hr.  But as ultra nutters go, of course I've come around and talked myself back into it.  The reason behind the immediate disinterest post the 12hr was that I mainly run ultra's because I have a love for the trails.  The scenery. The challenging and ever changing terrain.  Running circles certainly isn't high on my favourites list..........

So why am I doing it then?  Partly because you're not an Ultra Runner if you haven't done a 24hr event.  Partly because a lot of my close ultra runner friends are going to be there and I'd love to share this time with them.  And also partly because it'll be another testing ground in training up for the 750km adventure I'm doing 8 months later.

"Feedback is the breakfast of champions;" and from my past Ultra's I've found a consistent and reliable bout of tummy upset from around the 6-8 hr mark.  That was until a 9hr session I did a couple of weeks ago where I steered clear of what I thought I'd finally identified as the main culprits.  The good news here was that I got through the entire night without even a hint of trouble or discomfort.

In my first 100km Ultra, I got to the 70-75km mark, and the tummy hit me big time.  Unable to consume a thing for a few hours made fuelling impossible.  In my next 100km I steered clear of what I thought was the issue, but to no avail.  Tummy set in at around the 75-80km point.  A month later during a 12hr, I only got to 4 hours and again it showed up.  Each time avoiding what I thought was causing it.

Given that this issue only shows up after some considerable time on the feet, it was near impossible for me to test it out during training therefore it wasn't until the events where I was able to get the 'trial and error' technique into action.

With a change of plan for this year, aiming at larger distances rather than faster times, I've been able to spend the time during training to get some big mile runs in; in turn allowing me test things out a lot more.  Long story short, I've been able to pin point what was causing the tummy upset!!!! Yay.  And to prove my suspicions as mentioned earlier, I went out on the 9 hr with my new fuelling plans and BINGO.  All good.  As it turns out, it was the Endura Hydrolyte drink and gels that were doing it.  Consuming only bananas, plain water, salt tabs, some chocolate brownies, and a few cherry ripe bars this got me through unscathed. Not to mention the odd ginger beer just in case. I must point out here that the only variable to the norm was that I was a support runner for this event so I was only running at a gentle, comfortable pace the majority of the time; so had the intensity been higher at my own level, could this have brought about the same problem?

With all this in mind, 9hrs is far different to that of 24 in terms of vitamins/minerals/nutrients levels in the body.  Therefore, I do think that the recent 9hr plan won't get me through the 24hr without something else.  What to do............  I'll be going natural the whole way. That part I'm sure of!!!! This will be my fuelling testing ground for the 750km.  Sodium, magnesium and potassium being at the top of my list of priorities here.   The carbohydrate issue will be the easy to maintain component, so as long as I can keep the tummy at bay, I think I'm there.

Not being high on my priority list of events this year, I'm not specifically training for this event per se; but more so including it AS PART OF my training.  That noted, of course it is still a far larger single run than any of my typical training runs so there still has to be some level of build up prep and recovery period.  The main difference here will be that I won't be tapering for the event like I would should I have a bigger purpose or expectation.  Intentions are to complete a few more 6hr+ sessions in the coming 6 weeks, but more to the point, keeping my training miles up around the 400-500km's per month.

My current training schedule is following a pattern of 6/1.  Meaning 6 weeks of build up with 1 week active recovery.  This almost double to my old and typical training layout which is on a 3/1 basis.  Also within this 6 weeks, it's currently on 7 days one week, 6 days the next.  Meaning very little rest days.  Again, I add that the majority of the sessions (90%) are at easy, comfortable levels and some are relatively short sessions.  This specifically designed for my personal training goal and not typically advisable.  I'm monitoring this very closely!!!!

For those looking towards their first 24hr, the clear message here is to build the strength in the body.  Tendons and ligaments take time to build.  Far longer than muscle tissue so don't rush yourself into a 24hr.  Spend the time building the body up to 200km+, ideally 300km+ per month should you wish to push the entire way through a 24hr.  You may make it through with less, however your risk to injury would be extremely high if you did.  If your intentions are purely to see how you go, and go with a safe run/walk & even some rest break strategy, you may find your way through on a 150km/month base.  The tip with these events is to stay comfortable for as long as possible, stay fuelled and hydrated, then see what's left in the last stages.  Whilst I've stated I'm not a fan of these types of events, they provide a huge learning curve for you.  Not just in running, but in yourself.

My highest priority for this event will be my moving time.  This will be the key to my success in this event.  When I look back on my Garmin data, I want to see at least 23.5hrs moving time, allowing 1/2hr across the entire event for things such as grabbing some food and changing shoes/socks etc should the need arise.  Anything less will be unacceptable.  Every minute stopped is effectively a dead minute.  Even if it's a short walk while I down some food, I must keep moving.

Coming into this event, I'm a little more confident than leading up to the 12hr, as I've put a lot more miles under the feet in recent months compared to back then.  Speed and strength work has not been a priority in my recent schedule, but long, consistent mileage has taken pole position.  This has it's advantages as well as it's disadvantages.  While it may seem as though it's 'specificity of training' it's also going to expose it's shortcomings in the final hours with fatigue, where strength training could've helped.  So why aren't I doing much hill repeats or other various strength work?  Risk of injury!!!!!  As I've decided I need to rack up the total mileage above recommended increase rates, I've looked to counter this risk by dropping these types of sessions in my routine.  This has got me through the last few months without a hiccup.  Going from 200km/month in December to 500km in April with no sign of strain, discomfort or excessive fatigue is good news for my overall plan.  (my disclaimer here is 'not to try this at home.'  This is way above recommended levels of increase but I've managed it through experience and other risk management strategies)

Running laps for 24hrs straight is not what you'd call appealing.  Well, to me anyway.  In fact, I've created a pet hate for it from the couple of times I've done it.  I think I'd rather be doing my taxes....... With an event starting time in the morning, means the tough time mentally will be 12 hours later when the body is already fatigued, but now the body clock is telling me is night night time.......  I've done all nighters before, but not from starting in the morning.  Always starting late afternoon or early evening.  A great advantage (one of very few in lap running) is that I'll have my support crew close by at all times and being a local race I'll be surrounded by familiar faces whom I've shared the trails with before.  This stimulation will keep me going for the majority but I do believe I'm going to need something else.  I've got a few mantras that motivate me, but ultimately it'll be my goals that'll keep me moving.

I read some time ago on another runners blog (I'm sorry I can't remember who) that said "one of the best ways to get a little kick in a tough stage of an event is to encourage another runner as you/they pass by".  I've made a concerted effort to make this a normal part of my time on the track, (and local regulars could probably confirm).  This definitely works.  There's something about being positive and supportive to another that simultaneously rewards the provider.  Try it out on your next race!

In addition, this event will be the first of it's type for a few of my recent clients who have recently decided to take up my training programmes to get fitter or improve their performance.  Some of which came from ZERO running.  I'm going to be massively proud as we go around seeing them in action and how far they've come from only a couple of months ago.  Some doing the 6hr, some the 12hr.  I can't wait to see them.  This will no doubt give me a buzz.

With 2 months to go I still have a little time left to get a better judgement on how I'm going to go, but unlike the 12hr, I don't particularly have a distance goal as such so I'm not too concerned about that.  In fact, I'm more likely to be seen that day spending what energy I have helping some other runners who do have the targets.  Keeping them motivated and on target.  Maybe in 2014 I'll go for the distance goal but where I'm at and what I'm aiming at currently, I don't see that as the priority.

If I'm going to leave this with any tips, it's to always go into an event with a purpose.  Without purpose, there's no direction.  Your purpose may be to come first.  It may be to get your PR.  It may be just to finish.  Or it may be to get some experience.  Don't make the mistake of getting to the starting line without one; or you're likely to get part way through and question why your doing it.

What's the purpose behind your next event?

Saturday, May 11, 2013

HOW TO PREPARE FOR Ultra Marathon Running: In it for the long haul.........

An Ultra Marathon is any distance further than that of the typical 42.195km Marathon, with common distances of 50 & 100km, as well as 50 & 100 miles.  Running a normal marathon has been generally regarded for decades as the true test of physical fitness, taking the human body to it's limits through tough training, not to mention conquering the gruelling event itself.

However, over recent years, distance runners have been growing the community in the Ultra Running scene world wide.  Is it that they've completed the marathon a few times and now want something more?  Or is it their pure passion for distance that the miles they pour out each week just doesn't satisfy?  I've spoken a wide variety of ultra runners and have had as many different responses to this query as people questioned.

It goes without saying I'm sure that as the event distance increases, so too does the level of difficulty.  However, I'd like to point out firstly that while yes the event itself is somewhat a monster task, the major obstacle in most peoples path here actually lies in the training.  Most people won't even make it to the starting line due to the immense commitment required to prepare the body for the task.

The human body is an extraordinary biological machine, with a fine line between fragile, and resilient.  Fragile in the fact that it is in essence biological which means things can go wrong.  Unforseen, unplanned and unwarranted issues that can stop us in our tracks in a millisecond.  Resilient by way that the body has an uncanny way of becoming accustomed to it's surroundings when given the right attention.  In other words; the body adapts to the regular or consistent nature of it's existence.

With the above in mind, it must be said that there are endless variables that will affect how well, if at all each individual responds to such changes.  Age, gender, genes, training, general daily activity, nutrition, and the list goes on...... 

So how can one prepare themselves to run 50km+ in one single run?  Simple; get your miles up, and get your head right.  There is a typical 'rule of thumb' in the distance running community that one should aim to increase their weekly running distance tally by 10-15% on a regular basis.  While this is OK in a generic form, there is much to be said about generic advice.  Remember, this is a 'rule of thumb' so I do not recommend you take that on board and go off straight away racking up the miles.  There are many other important factors that must be taken into account to make sure these miles are QUALITY, EVENT SPECIFIC MILES.

SPECIFICITY OF TRAINING:  (You don't become world number 1 in golf, by playing tennis 5 times a week......)
If you've never seen an Ultra Marathon, I highly recommend going out to watch one in action.  Maybe help out as a volunteer to get an up close perspective to how the participants carry out their event.  Be sure to talk to some before and after the event.  Ask as many questions as possible, but most importantly, WATCH.

Some of the most consistent aspects you will notice about ultra runners is their pacing, fuelling, hydration, and technique.  There's many more things to consider but these make up at least 80% of what an ultra runner will focus their attention on. (besides the never ending quest to find the ultimate shoe!!!!!  LOL....)

But......... In amongst all of this, is their training.  Ultra Marathons can see you on your feet from 5-12+ hours, and some much more.  This brings about a massive challenge in being able to keep moving, and delaying fatigue for as long as possible, then learning how to keep moving once you are completely exhausted.  This can be a gallant task.

Get a proper training programme.  You have no room for guessing here.  You can bluff your way through on 12k, half marathons, and maybe even full marathons on DIY training programmes.  But you're risking it big time to go out into the Ultra world blind.  It's not worth the risk of injury, so look into it.  And more importantly, check that the one preparing your programme is an Ultra runner themselves!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

LEARN TO RUN LONG!!!! I've written a separate topic on long runs here: so I won't ramble on too much about that now, apart to say that this is the crucial part to any Ultra Runner.

MAKE IT TO THE STARTING LINE:  Half the battle in running an Ultra is making it to the starting line in one piece.  Ultra Marathon training ultimately means a massive sum of miles under the feet to build up the strength and endurance. 
Undertaken incorrectly can easily result with injury.  A pet hate of mine is seeing so many websites offering template training programmes. "fill in your event date and what distance" and it'll spit out your training programme.  Unfortunately, the 300 people before and after you will get the identical programme.  It really upsets me to see just how many people are pulling up injured through their training, not even making it to their event.

LEARN WHAT FUEL WORKS FOR YOU:  You can't expect to run 60km, 100km, 160km without eating.  Typically, the average adult body has enough readily useable stored energy to last around 3-4 hours at a constant output.  What this means is, events/runs with an anticipated finish time equal to or less than this you can assume that you have enough energy to get you through comfortably.  Above this you need to consider your expenditure and therefore a method for maintaining a sustainable level for the remainder of your event.  Whilst I am not one for 'rule of thumbs' as it can steer people off course, I'll use one here.  Typical/average output/energy expenditure for the average adult is circa 100Kcals per mile of running.  Larger/heavier frames, slightly more, smaller/lighter frames can be slightly less.  You get the idea I hope.  What this effectively means is; let's say you're running a 50miler:  This can mean total energy output in the area of 5000 calories.  This is a lot of energy used.  How do you intend to keep this managed during your race?  You can 'carbo load' all you like, but there is no way you will store enough to get you through at race level output.

With this in mind, you need to find what works for you.  Try, test, experiment, ask other ultra runners, read more blogs.  Find what works, and practice using it.

GET THE RIGHT GEAR:  Ok so I'm sure you're aware this task is a little more testing than the old run around the block!  Therefore, you might want to consider a little more than just comfy shoes and a water bottle to get you through.  Firstly, research the event(s) you wish to enter.  Some have mandatory gear you MUST carry.  If so, get it all early and train with it.  No point in training with your normal shorts, singlet and water bottle if on the race you have 7kg's of mandatory equipment!!!!!!!  If there is no specific requirements for your event, consider what personal items you're going to prefer?  How far apart are the aid stations?  Will you need to carry your own water and food?  How much?  Again, practice using it / carrying it.

Just like they say in the army.  Look after your feet!  If there's any area of your body you need to focus on the most, it's your feet.  They're about to take a massive pounding so the more you can help them out the better.  Many have found out the hard way (myself included) that your 'old trusties' that you've known and loved for years on your 12km races, may not give you what you need for a 100km. 
Get professionally fitted and gait analysed to give you the best possible chance of getting the right shoe.  ONLY buy shoes from runners.  Not store clerks!  By this I mean, you want to know the person that is advising you on which shoe will give you the support your feet needs, actually knows what they're talking about and not just spinning you a scripted response to get the days sales figures up.

LEARN TO WALK!!!!!!!!!!! Yes, you read it right.  Let's face it.  You're not going to run 100km straight through.  And if you do, let me know.  I want to meet you. lol.  So many people miss the importance of walking training.  The fact is, walking requires different muscles as well as a larger range of motion to that of running.  Runners who neglect this in their training really struggle during big events as those extra miles put on the extra demand that the body was not prepared for.  I like to put in at least 1 solid, hard, long walk session in per week.  I use this as an active recovery from my running training, and it helps me stay loose and nimble throughout the week.  In addition, I truly believe this helps me a great deal in the latter stages of ultra events when walking becomes more relevant.

Get committed!!!!  Running an ultra is an amazing experience.  One your sure to never forget.  Do your homework, and don't skimp on your training and you're sure to make this memory a favourable one. 

I'd love to hear from any followers of their experiences leading into their first ultra, so drop me a message and share your journey.  Any questions, let me know and I'd be happy to help.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Ultra Running for charity: 750km in 10 days

750km in 10 days in the interest of Crohns Disease.  An awful disease that affects so many people without the majority even knowing what it is.  It's so unknown, that as I write about it, even spell check picks it up............. It wasn't until a couple of years ago when a dear friend of mine, Sandra, told me about her condition with Crohns that I was personally brought into reality just how it can severely impact the lives of sufferers.

With ZERO government support and/or funding, all awareness, research and support comes from charity fundraising, of which has brought me to my next big adventure.  For in depth info on Crohns Disease, follow this link:

Sandra approached me a couple of months ago asking whether I'd be interested in helping raise awareness.  Not knowing how or when, but just whether I'd be interested should the opportunity arise.  "Absolutely"

A couple of months passed as I brainstormed how this is going to happen.  With several ideas floating in my head, the theme that kept leaping to the top was related to my running interests.  Not only due to my own passion for distance running, but also knowing the running community so well, that they are a very caring and supportive culture in general.  OK, so I'm going to run for Crohns!  Now, where and when?

If I'm going to do this, it's gotta be huge.  With the level that Crohns affects peoples lives, this run needs to somehow try and be comparable.  Right, so it's of to Melbourne I go.

On Saturday 12th April 2014, I, with support crew in tow, will set of on a 10 day adventure from Adelaide, to Melbourne aiming at covering 75km's per day.  Well that is the concept at this stage based on where I think my training is at.  Ideally I'd like to get this up to 84.4km's per day purely for a point to say it's 2 marathons a day.  I know I can run more than this in a day as I've done so a few times before, BUT, I've never had to back it up several days in a row.  This will be the challenge!

What am I up against?
Distance: Training for this distance is not about fitness.  It's about conditioning!!!!  You can be as fit as you like but if the body can not withstand the constant pounding and hour upon hour of relentless movement, you will break down.  In fact, 1/3 of this challenge will be just getting to the start line in tact, injury free.  I estimate that for the body to be prepared, I will need to be up to around 700-800km's per month in training, for at least 3-4 months in the lead up with a steady increase from my current 400-500kms.  This will give tendons and ligaments time to develop the strength and resistance required to withstand the torture that will no doubt set in from around day 3 onwards.

Back to Back days: It's one thing to run 75kms+ in one day.  It's another to be able to do it 10 days in a row.  I know how I've felt the day following these types of runs, and although I've been feeling better and better after each ultra I've finished, I still don't think I'm at a point where I could go out and run another.  This will be an area of training for sure.

Fuelling: 75kms = approximately 5000 calories consumption, + BMR.  Therefore, I'd be looking at needing around 7000 calories per day just to attempt to maintain equilibrium.  The trouble with that, is in the past I've had a relatively sensitive tummy post 7-8 hours on the run.  Consuming, and more importantly PROCESSING this volume of energy will be a make or break for this adventure.  No energy, means no go!!!!

The mind: How does one stay focussed and on top of things on plain, boring, never ending bitumen roads, hour after hour, day after day.  I like to think that I'm quite well disciplined, and strong willed, but no doubt this strength will be tested big time at some point.  There will be dozens of highs and lows through this run that I'd better be prepared for.

Navigation:  Getting from Adelaide to Melbourne is relatively easy.  However, getting there without using the convenience of the freeways will be interesting.  Getting out of Adelaide, and getting into Melbourne without adding on too many unwanted km's will be a high priority.  Day 1 will be a fair challenge with some fairly decent hill climbs to kick me off on the journey.  From there on it's relatively flat.  Melbourne CBD however is littered with freeways, but I'm sure with the right research, I'll find a reasonable route though.

Support: There's no way I could run this without a good support crew.  With this in mind, my lovely wife has committed to cruising along behind me in a campervan, of which will carry all the gear and supplies, along with the comfy pillow I will no doubt be longing for at the end of each day.  To help break up the monotony of each day, I've already had generous offers from the local running community to come out and meet me at different stages and join me for a fair chunk of the trek.  Gotta love the supportive nature of ultra runners...........

Sponsors: And most importantly, the sponsors.  The main reason I'm doing this adventure; to raise funds and awareness for Crohns Disease.  The target is $20,000.  Anything above this would be fabulous.

Why not?  Sadly, many people with Crohns Disease struggle to lead a normal, typical life let alone enjoy things we take for granted such as running among many things.  So instead of me just running and running mile upon mile for personal joy, why no put it all to good use?

There's a lot of work to do, many people to approach and loads of training to come.  This will be a challenge of epic scale for me.  But no doubt it still does not compare to what Sandra and her Crohns suffering counterparts endure everyday.

On this page, as well on Facebook I will update on a regular basis how the preparations are going and how people may donate towards the cause once the Crohns & Colitis Australia Foundation have set up the direct.  Any help anyone can give would go a long way.

It all starts now.......................

Monday, February 11, 2013

Caboolture Historical 12hr: 'Dusk to Dawn' RACE REPORT

Boarding pass, check; shoes, check; trained to run in sub tropical 90% humidity for 12hrs, ummmmm don't have that one packed.

Going into the unknown of ultra running for time rather than distance was a calculated area of inexperience I knew I had.  There has to be a different strategy and mental preparation to go into a race where you're spending an entire 12hrs on a 500m circuit....... Whilst I knew this at the time of paying my entry fee, it was far from my level of comprehension just how mentally draining this would be.

We arrive 3 hours before the start line with the knowledge of a record participant figure of 265. On the 500m track it has to be tight fit.  So to secure a decent spot, we better be early. Expecting to be one of the first, we find there are at least a dozen other teams setting up already. Ok, so we're not too keen after all.   We hop out of the car, Wow, it's not what I'd call comfortable running conditions. Low 30 deg C, at 90% humidity meant that just our casual walk around the track to find a good spot brought some light beads of moisture the forehead.

We settle down about 40 metres from the start line and main timing camp giving easy access to race data as we trudge through the weary night.  With more food, drink, table space, shelter and general aid matter than the entire race, I think we've got all we need. My mother and brother, both being virgins to the aid station game were unbelievably well prepared and carried the team of 4 well through the night.

30 minutes to go I decide I'd better sit down for a while and get the head in the right space, rather than spinning through the million thoughts of how, when, what of my race plans and just keep it simple. Stay comfortable for 6-8 hours, aim to be at 60km by the 6 hr mark and see what's left after that.......

"5 minutes to go guys. Relay teams to start near the front as we anticipate them to run off faster, then everyone else find a spot you feel comfortable" was the announcement from the loudspeaker nearby. Gee, those last 25 minutes went by quick considering the last 24hrs leading up didn't seem to move at all.  Barry, Sammi, Graham and I slowly tread our way over.  I take a quick final glance over myself to make sure I haven't forgotten anything, turn on the Garmin, give the surrounding crew some warm wishes before we head off on the slight down hill grade.

140 something runners all lining up on a 4 meter wide track meant the combined scent of deodorant and deep heat was that much stronger, not to mention thinking the first couple of turns will be a tad bit squeezy.  And off we go to sound of the village bell..........

The first couple of laps are really hard to keep my pace down.  With so many events on the go from half marathon to 12hr, relays of every option known to running, it meant there was some very fast pacing out there.  "Keep comfortable for 6 hrs" was running through my mind every time the Garmin buzzed through a kilometre and telling me I'm way ahead of target pace.  "Ok, slow down Matt you're going out way too hard". I continue to tell myself.  No matter how much I tried to run slower, I just found myself running splits 30-45seconds faster than the plan. (This will change later on).

"1 minute till change of direction guys" blaster over the field.  Dripping with sweat only 1 hour in, I decide to follow the example set by the majority of the male field and lose the top.  Oh that's better instantly.  The sun's now resting on the horizon giving us a distinct orange and purple glow, and the breeze now hitting the skin direct helped drop the core temperature a little.

22 laps down I hit the 1 hour scheduled direction change.  At least we had a chance to run towards our mates before we each turned for a quick hi-5 and forced grin.  I quickly take a mental examination of how I'm sitting body wise vs time and come to realise that while I may have 11km in the bank, making me 1km in credit, I'm not sitting as comfortable as I'd anticipated.  Better get some food in.  Fuel up early!  As I reach out for a cherry ripe I see my arm is shiny like I'm oiled up for a bodybuilding photoshoot.  Why am I sweating so much when I'm running at 70% effort?  Better keep the fluids up.  Instead of just taking a quick swig after every few laps and returning the bottle a few seconds later with an unthoughtful bottle toss back at the support table; I decide I'll take a bottle with me on my scheduled walk breaks.  This seemed to have kept the fluids up enough to keep me going and settled one of my fears of dehydration.

2 hours and 20km down I'm back on target pace.  "6hours, 60km, stay comfortable" I continue to remind myself.  With the plan of eating early to stay fuelled up I keep my eating habits regular and fluids remain the priority.... 

Barry is on a flyer pushing a pace I'd expect from the typically fast starter and continues to look good.  Sammi passes her PB distance and seems to have settled into a reasonable run/walk pattern that's working for her.  Graham a couple of laps back looks to be fairing quite well.

Not good..... what's going on?  Stomach going on me at only 30kms?  NO!  I've had longer training runs at faster pacing with no problems.  I haven't eaten anything untested.  This is not right.  I slow to a pace of run 1 lap walk the uphill section of the next and repeat.  20 mins later, the belly continues on it's downward spiral.  How can this happen?  The legs soon follow with that familiar, heavy, sloppy feeling when you're feeling low.  I've got to break this now otherwise I can kiss this night goodbye.  I settle back to a run 1, walk 1 pattern but keep the walk to a 7km/h pace so as to not cost me more than neccessary.  I have a few KM's buffer in the pacing to allow a slight drop off through the night but I hadn't planned having to cash them in so soon.

I'm not the only one that's now about to have an uncomfortable night.  Sammi rolls her ankle, but finds she can keep on it with a favourable limp.  So with some deep courage and determination, she gets back out of the relieving camp chair and hits the track once more.  Sitting at low 20km's I try to nudge Sammi back out of a slump by telling her I'd be really happy if she could muster 32km, and ecstatic should she hit 35km.  She get's back up and pushes out some more.  Well done, Sammi, that takes something from deep inside that most others can't fathom.

3.5hrs I'm way back at 32kms.  If I'm to hit the targeted 100km, this belly had better get sorted NOW.  Oh yes, I bought some ginger beer as a plan B in anticipation of belly problems.  Let's give it a go.  Untested on runs but I've got nothing to lose now.  Down half a bottle and off I go.  I hobble through for 10 minutes and, oh, it's coming good.  Is it really getting better or is it just a mental thing?  I don't care.  I can run.  I get 4 or 5 laps though at goal pace. YEAH, I'm back!  100km will be a tough fight but it's still on target.  I just need to keep this belly at bay.  OK, no more sweets, and no gels.  Fruit and pasta is all it will take.

What is that?  Ooooo, ow, click, click, click.  Medial collateral ligament on left knee.  Every leg extension without fail was with a clicking sharp pain.  I slow to a walk, it stops.  Run again, ouch, there it is.  You've got to be  kidding me?  Where has this come from?  Racking my brains of what can cause this I come to nothing.  Training has been good, tapering was good.  Why now?  On the only good note, the ginger beer seems to have done it's job.  The feeling of losing my dinner has subsided somewhat.  Still there, but bareable.  Bit of an anticlimax now that I can't run from the damn knee. 

I slip further and further back.  Now at 19th place,  and 5hrs down I make some calculations.  If I'm to make 100km's I'm going to have to run at normal ability.  Sadly, tonight is not my night and should I attempt it, I think it'll pull me right out.  Right there, I have to mak a call I never planned for; "I have to let go of my 100km target, it's not gonna happen"  I mutter in the direction of our table to the crew as I stagger past.

About 30 minutes later I tell Barry of my trouble as I keep a painful but determined run/walk pattern up.  He shares his compassion and respectfully pushes on, still on target for a comfortable 100km session.

Another 30 minutes, Barry comes trotting up behind for the hundredth time. (what it felt like).  "Maybe try taking the calf sleeves off.  See how you go" He advises.  Why not, it's hot anyway and I'm certainly not punching out any level of 'performance' to warrant them.  So I finish the lap and flop myself down onto the delightful comfort of the canvas.  ahhhh, can I stay here forever?  Off they come.  It felt as relieving as taking your shoes off after a long day.......  Off I go. 

15 minutes later I chance a little stroll.... Still clicking.... Shit!  At this rate, I'm now looking at 80km.  This is not what I signed up for!  This is not what I trained for!  So the painful run/walk pattern continues while I dread every time I come to my planned run down the gentle slope and long for the walk on the up.

6 hours down, and the announcements continue to remind me that the 6 hour runners are finished.  By the 4th or 5th announcement I'm about ready to curse at him as it's definitely not something I need to hear right now.  The only positive that came at this time was seeing Sammi finish up as strong as an injured runner can and knocking a huge PB at 34.5kms.  So after a 3 second congratulations hug as she is rewarded with a rest and cold drink, I return to the deadly gravel that has carved my night plans to ruins.

Hang on........ I, I, can I?  I think...... YES, it's releasing........ Whilst still slightly there, the ligament seems be playing by the rules a bit.  8 hours in, it is clear that 100km's is off the cards no matter how good I now feel since I'm only at 62kms and in no position to pull out a 4hr marathon.  Now the chance of pulling back my recently doubtful revised plan of 90km's is possible should this knee continue to improve and the belly stay at bay.

"We're about 2 minutes from the turn around folks" is the call filling the now almost silent and still course.  Not a lot of cheering from the weary supporters and the runners are all in their own trance like state in attempt of making something of this warm, sticky night.  Ok, 3 hours to go.  I'm in 20th place.  Let's see how this knee is.  I make an attempt to put in 2 full laps without a walk for the first time in hours.  It works.  WooHoo!!!!! I can actually run!  In fact, just putting those 2 laps down had the big screen tell me I'd jumped into 19th.  I may be having a bad night but clearly so are some others.

This little buzz gave me a thought.  If I can run, and I picked up one place, how far away is the next?  Let's get 18th.  I come around to aid station with a new found sense of energy.  "Steve, I'm 19th, go check the screen and tell me how far away is 18th".  3 minutes later, "4 laps Matt."  OK, 2km away.  Let's reel him in.  This occupies the mind with a more manageable goal.  I put down about 5-6 laps at decent pace.  "Now where is he?".  "1 lap" he replies.  Oh this is great news.  Not only can I now run if I keep my mind off the belly, but I'm gaining.  I down some more fruit which has been my only intake for the last 6 hours besides an attempt at half a cup of spaghetti.  Let's get him.  3 laps later, 18th place. YES.  Alright, where's 17th.  Only 3 laps ahead.  This one takes a little more chasing but just after the next change the big screen rewards my efforts with prize of 17 next to my name.

This is a game I like better.   Forget about how far I'm going, or the time I have left.  Let's just focus on 'one at a time' with the next in front.  "Got him Steve, where's 16th?"  It was so refreshing each time I seen I was pulling in on the next and a massive boost once I'd got them.  This is how I'll finish the night off.  "5 laps". OK, so this one's a little further but 2.5km's is ok as long as he's not going to hard.  I have  a little over 1.5 hours to go.  Let's make this one the target. 

I fuel up again, keep the chilled water flowing and don't stop.  No more stopping if I'm going to get this one.  A few little walks on the up of the back straight here and there but that's all.

2 minutes til our next and final direction change for the race, I find I've got him.  It was a hard chase, and took a bit out of me but I got him.  Now I need to keep it.  No lower than 16th at the end, but let's go for 15th.  After another sneeky request of my crew to stare the tally screen down I find the next is not only just 3 laps away, but he's walking with Graham.  Aha.  I got this.  1 lap down, 2 laps down, ok there he is.  Oh, bugger, he's gonna make this hard.  He's started running again.  50 minutes to go.  OK let's just not let him get away and I'll pass him on his next walk break.  Whoa!  He's putting in.  I can't maintain that pace.  No way, he's clearly been walking for a while.  15 minutes later he comes flying around past me, and looks strong.  OK, no way is this gonna to happen.  He's too quick after a decent break.  Let's just keep this 16th and not let it go.

Here comes the reminder that I've been up all night; the indescribable Queensland sunrise.  Oh what a sight for tired eyes.  It's a subtle yet direct message that we're almost done.  Gee I needed that.

All the while of playing 'cat and mouse' I've let the total km's become 2nd priority, resulting in a tally I wasn't really conscious of.  Oooo, 30 mins, and 4 kms til the 90.  I'm knackered, but I can do that.  Let's get that 90!!!  Sounds better than 80 something.  Knowing I'm going to have to report this run, I really don't feel like reporting an 80's tally.

"Hey Barry, how far off your 100km?" I don't know what he said under that strained but concentrated breath but I could sense it was very soon.  I soon find he hits it shortly after.  What an inspiration and what a buzz for me to share that with him given he's the man who got me into ultra running only a handful of months ago.  Well done Barry, you're a true example of what ultra running is all about.  Commitment, compassion, personal resolve, and a down right awesome runner!

3 minutes to go I hobble through the line to tick over the 90km total.  Awesome!!!  As I come to my aid station my father hands me my finishers block to mark where I stop but I tell him I'll make it back anyway.  This means a final lap at 6min/km pace.  Sounds easy but not after a night like that.  I give it my all.  Striding out like I was fighting for my life, the announcement comes out "30 seconds",.............."15 seconds"......... there's the line and there's my aid station.  If I have to stop somewhere on the course for the officials to measure my finishing spot, it's gonna be there.  With 4-5 seconds to go, there I am slowing to a holt right in front of my awesome crew.  "Keep going, it's still on!" they scream.  "Nope"....... and bang, there it is.  All over folks.

90.547km's, after the worst night I've spent on my feet in my short running career.  Whilst I was initially upset with falling short of the 100km goal, I look at where I was at 4 hours and how I felt for the following 5.  That makes me happy with the 90km's.

It's one thing to run well, which is always welcomed, and there's another to run when you're not well.  This race was an example of pushing through when at your lowest.  When you think you're out and you begin to brainstorm ways of excusing yourself out of the race because of some legitamate reason.  Thankfully, out of the million ideas I came up with during those awful hours, non of these reasons were good enough.  No way was I returning home to tell my wife and kids that I gave up.  No way was I returning to my aid station with all the effort thay'd put in to say I'd given up.  No way was I looking in the mirror the next morning and expecting to be happy by knowing I'd tossed it in.

Good runs teach you that you're training was right, and that you've prepared well.  Bad runs teach you everything else.......................  Which means I learned a lot.  I can't wait for my next bad run!

Pre race pic - with Barry and Sammi

Monday, February 4, 2013

BALANCE: life, family, work, running......... it can be tough as a distance runner

It goes without saying, training for a big event takes a lot of commitment.  And generally speaking, the bigger the event, the bigger the commitment.......

A couple of weeks ago I was out for an early morning sunrise run with a new found friend and running enthusiast who dropped a query on me: "You've got 3 kids, a wife and work full time, how do you balance that with running?"  Now, these are my words as I can't remember the exact phrase but you get the idea....  It took me a couple of moments to work out how to respond as whilst I have been conscious of this issue in recent times, I'd never really taken the time to look at it in a logical form of which can be translated to another.  In fact, it's taken me a couple of weeks to mull over it some more to explain it clearer.

I went on to explain about setting priorities etc and time management like any expected response to this question, but in essence it was an automated answer to a question that I didn't have a definitive answer to at the time.

I'd like to think that I've managed this issue quite well and hope that my family, friends and employer would agree with my opinion.  I take pride in ensuring good, fair balance between all aspects of what forms my life.  In fact, I pay special attention to this when I know I have to increase or alter one component and how this will affect the others.  For example, if time at work increases, how can I alter the other areas so that they do not suffer in any way?

We all have lives to lead.  And everyone's direction, aspirations and surroundings head them in different directions to everyone else.  That's what makes life unique....  However, how is it that some are able to achieve what others struggle to find the time to do?

In the context of distance running, the training time alone can be excessive.  Enough to put pressure on the other areas of your life.  Training for a marathon can typically see someone running anywhere between 40km-150km per week depending on their ability and competitiveness.  Turn this into time commitment and you're talking between 4 to 20hours per week!!!!!  For someone with limited other commitments, no kids, low work or study hours etc this may be reasonable easy to slide in.  Start to add these commitments in and you're looking at juggling 8 balls behind you're back with one arm!

Giving something more of your time than another, doesn't mean it is of higher priority than the other. The quality of the time spent is of higher significance.  By this I mean, if one area of your life will require a higher than normal commitment, you have 1 of 2 choices.  You can either see if this new commitment can be condensed by being BETTER at it in the same time allocation; OR can you improve the QUALITY of the time in the other important areas once they have to be reduced?

To assume you can constantly keep 'filling the cup' without it overflowing is a naive and ignorant view.  Something has to give, especially for ultra runners.

The most important thing I've done since becoming an ultra runner is share my dreams with those closest to me.  My wife and kids especially have been on board with what I'm aiming for the whole way.  At times I'm reminded to shut up about running, as I tend to ramble on about it quite a lot; but they're all well aware of what I'm spending all this time doing and WHY.  It's important for them to know that all this time sacrificed is going to towards something that's important to me.  Rather it being viewed as "he's going for another run".  I know, you know, and other runners know that it's not just another 'run' but a specific, meaningful training session that has purpose.  But just because we understand this, it doesn't mean they do.  Be sure to express it, but don't bore them.

Long hours on the feet doesn't always reflect a proportionally beneficial gain to your performance.  In other terms, just because you're running more, that doesn't mean you're going to improve as much as you've increased your time commitment.  Read, learn, ask, get feedback, try new things........ Do whatever you can to IMPROVE your training efficiency.  Learn how to GET MORE from each training session rather than just DOING MORE.....

Either create or seek advice on getting a structured training programme if need be.  Or if you've got one, is it time to fine tune it.  This can massively improve your training efficiency.

Pick better times of the day/week that have less impact on your family, work, study.  Try early morning or evening rather than while everyones awake.  Or if you have solitude time at home during the day, do it then rather than when everyones at home.  Obviously this is a very personal, case by case scenario so just try to improve your timing of your runs.

Find ways to utilise your time better.  We on;y have so many hours in a day, and I'm a firm believer that no matter how you try to fit 1.1 litres into a 1 litre bottle, it won't fit!  So try to share your time where possible.  For example, my mid week runs are fairly easy to work around as most of those are fairly short so I can fit them in without it really sacrificing time to family or work, however my long runs which are done mainly on weekends is where it can eat into our family and/or social time.  These are important to me too..........  As I love to run trails, and we have some fabulous National Parks and beaches around Adelaide, I often arrange a family picnic or day out to an area that THEY like also.  Somewhere with playgrounds or other entertainment for the kids, and a trail close by where I can run.  In this instance I'll head off a couple of hours earlier for my run and arrange for them to get there at around my finish time.  This has worked well for us to date with time shared on fabulous days in beautiful locations all over town.  (Not to mention awesome post run food with a prepared picnic waiting for me......... - that's my real motive...... lol)

While running adds massive value to your life, it can come at a cost to others.  For example, all those hours spent on the feet could be spent with the kids, partner, family, friends, study etc.  "For every action there's an equal and opposite reaction............" Yeah, you've heard it all before.  Well this holds true in this context too.  It's imperative that you add value to your kids lives, your relationship, your career and social circles during the time you do have.  Besides voicing and sharing your goals and aspirations, don't spend all this time focussing on your needs, but make a conscious effort to build value to these important areas of your life.  Take the kids to their sports game, run a scented bath for your partner, stay back late with the boss during a busy week, invite your close friend over for a meal this weekend.  And during this time, talk about them!  Leave the runners in the cupboard for the moment and just focus on THEIR needs.  This will go a long way towards making your time running a less guilty pleasure..........

In essence, what I'm saying is distance running is a hard hobby/sport to balance but taking the right steps (no pun intended - haha) can save you a lot of anguish along the way, or worse one of the areas of your life failing........  Speak up, run smart, listen and learn, and add value to the other areas of your life where ever possible.

I'm not saying I'm perfect here, and I'm sure there's many ways I can improve, but the fact that one tries makes it worth while.  If you have any tips or techniques you use to make this work for you, please feel free to leave a comment so we can all try to improve here.

Happy running....................

Thursday, January 31, 2013

ULTRA RUNNERS ARE CRAZY!!!!!!! - to non ultra runners.........

When I first began running, it was a few km's here and there and was looked upon as general fitness to improve my health status.  The social opinions here when discussing my activities were consistently positive with a clear message of "that's great, well done."

As I moved up the distance brackets to 15km-20km+ per run, the general consensus was that this was quite difficult but well done for taking on the challenge.  "Geez, 20km's, well done.  You must be really fit!"

Then came my decision to train for and run ultra's............ Well, how did the opinions and questions change!!!!!!!!!!!!!  "Are you nuts?"  or the most common response I get is "WHY?"

Why do ultra runners run ultras?  Personally, it's hard to define.  To be honest, it's almost impossible to describe in a manner that would make sense to another.  Some key points that spring to mind are; the challenge, the freedom of the trail, leaving issues on the trail beyond the 20km point, aid station food!!!!!!!, achieving more than I or others think possible, the runners high I get at the finish line of an event, the example of self discipline I set for my kids........................ There's so many more I could ramble on about here.

The point is, no matter how much I try to describe it to non ultra runners, the blank face continues to stare back at me...... "Yeah I get wanting to be fit, but that's just stupid!" Maybe it is, maybe it isn't.  Maybe I don't care.  I love it, so I'll do it.

I've had the chance to study the field of running and fitness in general through tertiary education as well as personal enquiry directly with the running crowd and have found it clear, distinct character trait consistent with ultra runners compared to non ultra runners.  Those who compete in ultra's are VERY goal orientated.  Some more than others, but in general, they are very clear about what they want to achieve.  And I don't just mean with running, but life in general.  I think this comes as a natural progression as since committing to running ultras myself, I know the type of commitment that it takes.  Someone with limited direction or focus would struggle to adhere to the regime of what ultra marathon training puts you through.

The other point I've noticed, is that the majority of these don't neccessarilly see most of this training as "training", but as a "lifestyle".  They run 150,200, some 300km+ per month, not because the programme says they have to, but because they love to...........  Coming event or no coming event, you'll often see these people smashing a trail for 4-5 hours on a weekend because it's their form of joy.

And my favourite character trait I find most common amongst true ultra runners, is their ability to put competitiveness aside for companionship.  Don't get me wrong, ultra runners love to win and punch out PB's just like anyone else; but I've never seen a field of sportsmen/women who are so open, helpful, and genuinely intersted in how you are going than that of the ultra running crowd.  Only an ultra runner truely knows what it's like out there after 12+ hours on your feet and still have 20km's to go, or a tough mountain to climb while on an empty tank.  I think this is what makes them so empathetic to each other.  To have someone stop during an event just to talk to you, see how you are, or just share some time with you before heading off again is almost unheard of during an official race or event in other forms of competitive sport.

Ultra Runners are clearly a different breed.

A local ultra runner here in South Australia who I've been blessed to share some time on the trails with, Sputnik, is an avid videographer of his time on the trails and shares some his experiences here:  It's worth a watch to get a glimpse of what distance trail running can be like out there and how he responds to the challenges along the way.  Ultra running has seen Sputnik travel to many parts of the world.  I'd highly recommend a few minutes flicking through his many journeys.........  Thanks for sharing Sputnik.

As an example of the frame of mind I've been in during a recent ultra, I hit the 60km aid station/check point of a 105km ultra, and mentally my perception of breaking this day down was "ok, only a marathon to go"  At the time, this helped me put aside the fact that this was a 105km run.  Looking back on this now, how was I able to comfort myself by saying it was ONLY a marathon to go?  A marathon is a long way by anyones standards and yet I somehow used this as a means of easing myself.  Let's not forget the fact that this checkpoint also marked the furthest distance I'd ever run in a single session; so to have this frame of mind whilst going into unknown territory is kind of intriguing in hindsight.
Approaching the 60km aid station

There's something about the sheer size of an ultra marathon that takes the emotional preparation to another level.  To a place that no 12km or half marathon has taken me before.  With complete and utter exhaustion, nearing minight with over 100km's and 2950m of accent behind me I hobbled accross the finish line to meet my wife and kids who's volunteered their time on aid stations for the day.  The magnitude of emotions in that moment will stick with me for life.

I guess the question is: Are Ultra Marathons good for you?  There's plenty of opinions (especially by the negative 'drag-me-downs' out there) that long distance running is bad for you and ruins your body.  There may be some validity in these views; and there may not be..........  There's no denying that the level of training that an ultra runner goes through, and the limits they take their body to during an event is quite excessive.  However, I'd like to argue that this can not be far different to the negative impact of most other high levels of competition sports.  AFL, Rugby, Tennis, Basketball, Soccer/Football, Grid Iron, Cricket, Hockey, you name it, the elite players are always training and competing at a level that takes their physical self to the limits.  In fact, I'd like to make my own observation (non research supported) that from my own experiences, ultra runners are in better overall 'health' and injury free than the majority of these fields.  How often are top perfromers of these sports out of action due to injury?  On the flipside to this, it's funny how it's generally the 'couch potato' that voices this opinion to me.  "You run too much.  Running that far is bad for your body.  You're going to do yourself damage"  Any runners ever heard this or similar?  I'd like to state that I'd rather be stressing the body's health with fitness functions and recovery than with high blood pressure and cholesterol watching the idiot box for 6 hours a day.  I'd rather have a knee reconstruction in my 40's than a triple bypass...............  Maybe it's just me!

I guess my point here is, yes it takes a lot out of the body to train for and compete in ultra distance running; but is it worth it?  You bet it is!