So how does a novice ultra-runner prepare for his first outing? I thought that would make a reasonable topic for this evening’s post. Obviously you may not want to go ahead and duplicate this as this is the methods of someone inexperienced in the particular discipline and for whom plenty of refinement is likely needed but here we go:
Making up for lost time…
First I had to deal with the obvious problem that my last eleven week’s of training had been poor from a running perspective as I could not shake my achilles injury. From 46km to 14km to 27km and then I dropped to zero for four weeks before managing an average of less than twelve kilometres per week for the next four weeks. All in all, 11 weeks and 140km was all my body would take, something that was almost within a week’s work earlier in the year.
So, I assessed what I had done: I increased my strength and flexibility hugely through a rigorous training regime. I had also kept some minimum fitness through a few long hill walks, a bit of race-walking and the conditioning just mentioned. I knew my race-fitness was long gone, but I wouldn’t need it. I would just need to stay on my feet, not get injured, and have my muscles and energy-stores hold out.
I tested myself up Snowdon, running steady up for 5km with the English Youth Officer, Bashir Hussein, whom I met on my course in England, before jogging downhill for 3.7km. My joints were a bit tender but generally good. So after our Sunday travel day, I gleefully threw myself at three massive days of hill-walking (up to 8 hours on my feet) with severe climbing. I reasoned just getting out there on my feet for three days would do me a world of good. Then I took to easier days before the race.
I still had two problems: I still didn’t know if my body could really run, or merely walk, and second, I still hadn’t a pair of shoes I could wear. The only shoes that I could now wear without pain were the series of light Inov-8s I owned. All seemed to flimsy for the endeavour ahead and because I have had irritation on the peroneal tendon in both feet, I needed something else. The solution surprisingly was Inov-8s recovery sandal – the Recolite 190. I saw it at Pete Bland Sport’s van in Ambleside and just decided to try them on and run around in them. No pain. “Ok, how much, I said,” and went on my merry way. I only had Friday morning to test them so took them out for 2km on grass and then trail. I didn’t feel great, and there were some complaints from the joints, but it was the best I’d felt so far anyway, so I went with it.
I hadn’t been quite satisfied with my previous racing bag, a North Face model, as it got too sticky to the back. I tested quite a few in the Lake District before settling on the Salomon X20 because it was 1) light-weight, 2) had nifty side-pockets for easy access, 3) had loads of compartments and 4) felt comfortable and light.
I then bought a few carabiners so I could attach my map-case handily in front of me. My favourite activity during races is to forget that I’m carrying a map and just run in whatever direction feels right, so I hoped that having it slapping in my face with regular intervals would work. It didn’t.
This was the best part: How many times did I test run my new shoes? Once. How many time did I test my new backpack and my race food? Uh, not at all. What navigational preparation did I do. Well, I read the road-book, a lost cause with my memory except it showed me where the most dangerous place to go wrong was early on. I remembered this and then chose to ignore it during the race anyway. I was diligent with the map and poured over it in great detail but still there was something strange about my preparations. It was as if, instinctively I expected to run for a few kilometres and then have to pull out because of injury anyway. This hung as a bit of a cloud over the enthusiasm of my preparations. What about socks? Well, I bought a pair of new ones and decided to wear them straight away. They did well!
The morale of the story is that you probably don’t want to copy this approach but that a runner with a bit of stubbornness, some good base-fitness and reasonable equipment will find their way through an ultra.
The thing is, and this is not a regret, but an after-thought: Once I got into the swing of things last Saturday, around 20-30km out, and found myself well up midway to Mardale Head, my focus was only on one thing: Moving further up the field. At this time, I felt like I could achieve a great result. In the end, things didn’t stay quite as lofty, and I was delighted to just finish, but next time I would make a point of being fully trained, fully fit, and fully prepared and hopefully even more competitive.