Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Sum fings wot I have lernt

I've been walking around with a sheet of paper for a while now, trying to write down a few bits of advice that I wish I had known 5 years ago when I had my first go at ultra trail running.

For someone who has been running and racing in one format or another for over 30 years, it would be easy to assume I'd got my head around every eventuality and knew every trick in the book - WRONG! Almost daily I learn something new, a little gem from someone which might help me in making some progress.

I thought it might be nice, for my own benefit, to jot these thoughts down in one place and see if it might spark some further contributions from others. So here, in no particular order, are a few thoughts from me - feel free to comment and add your own pearls of wisdom. This goes with the usual disclaimer that these are just my own thoughts - feel free to take on board what you want and ignore everything else.

At some point in an ultra marathon, especially a 100+ miler, something will go wrong, you will have to adapt from your original plan, you might miss a turning, your support crew might be lost, a shoelace has broken, etc, etc. Deal with it! There is no use getting wound up; there are enough physical stresses on your body, don't add mental stress to the mix. In almost every case, there will be a way of coping.

When you start ultra running you turn into Imelda Marcos - you can never have enough shoes. There is always one more pair of trainers that you need, this will be the pair you use for the 700yds of the climb after Balmaha on the West Highland Way, this other pair I'll need for the run into Filey on the Hardmoors 110, obviously I'll have to use those for the first mile of the Lakeland 100..........

During a race lasting 20 hours plus, there will be weather. Make sure you have the kit to cope with it. Remember, with the lower intensity of effort in an ultra, you will not generate as much body heat as in a swift 10k race. Once you are cold, it is a slippery slope to hypothermia. In contrast, be aware of the problems associated with heat and don't forget sun block; you will be out in the glare for many hours.

Consistent blocks of training are far better than hammering a few weeks, breaking your body then taking a few weeks to recover. Rest and recovery need to be built into your training programme and the older I have got, the more R&R I need.

When facing more technical, rougher trails, don't fight it. Be smooth, be comfortable, roll with it, keep the stress levels down.

If the race involves dropbags, have a "Must do, might do list". On numerous occasions, I have been a mile or so from the dropbag point, planning what I'm going to do, then, in the heat of the moment at the checkpoint, I forget most things, only to remember again a few miles later. I now use a list of what I MUST DO and some things I MIGHT DO depending on conditions. This is the one I prepared for UTMB......

While we are on the subject of kit - test it all out on some long training runs, you don't want a rogue seam chafing, trainers need to be well broken in, rucksack/bumbag should not bounce, etc. Do your training with the full kit you have to carry for your race.

If you are coming from a road racing background, get your head around the fact that in a mountain trail ultra it's OK to walk. Think more about energy conservation rather than speed.

As you start to really tire and should be looking after yourself carefully, you lose the desire to do so; everything just becomes too much effort. I think this is one of the reasons why "race vest packs" have become so popular recently as they have pockets and pouches all up front giving you every opportunity to pamper yourself.

In a similar vein, I like to give myself an MOT test every 30-60 minutes in a race. I start at the head (how do I feel psychologically/positivity?). Any tension in my shoulders? How is the stomach feeling, am I still able to eat? What about the old pins; muscle fatigue, cramps? Finally, feet; hot spots, blisters, pains? If you can stay one step ahead of these issues, life is full of roses.

A 100 miler will be an emotional roller-coaster. You might get lower lows than you thought possible but, equally, the highs are beyond my my ability to articulate. The bad patches wont last, you will get through them; an hour after thinking you're about to quit you could be floating along the trail with a big smile on your face wondering what all the fuss was about.

Stay positive, be nice to everyone, thank the marshals, high five anyone willing to join in, give your support crew a hug, crack a joke with other runners, feed off the race positivity. The moment you start getting down on yourself, the negative emotional spiral kicks in and it's a tough cycle to break.

Sudocrem is the ultra runners friend.

Don't get caught up in the social media game of "look how many miles I've run this week". Being fresh, rested and raring to go is a better state than being jaded and tired. I'm not saying you don't have to put in the hard work in training but everyone is different and I know it's easy to think that because he/she is banging out x miles every week, I have to as well. This is one of the main reasons I have not signed up to Strava. For some folk, this can be a great motivator, but for me I'm sure I would start to stray from my plans too frequently.

Back in the good old days I used to have a bit of a turn of pace, but spent a couple of years turning myself into a diesel engine when I first had a go at ultras. This last year or so I've tried to get a bit of speed back in my legs and have reaped some rewards for this. I've changed my view on speedwork for ultras; I used to think there was no point as I wouldn't be running that fast in a race, however, being able to run faster just seems to make the grind of an ultra so much easier and I also have another gear when I need it.

Much as you might crave them, try to avoid refined sugars when racing; blood sugar spikes and troughs are not good.

There are many things that can go wrong in an ultra - control what you can and try not to worry about what you can't control. Beforehand, play the "what if game". What will I do if....... Like a good cub scout - be prepared.

Now, my list goes on, but I'm aware that this post is going on and on so perhaps it's time to leave a few pearls of wisdom for another time and give others an opportunity to debate/disagree/scoff/tut/add to this list.

If you could go back a few years and give yourself some advice, what would you say?