It’s finally here – my moment of truth where I get to use my new running super powers out in a race. I say “race” but with Ultra running as I am learning, it is even more about how you pace yourself, fuel and cope with the distances and less about getting your heart rate up and smashing yourself.
If I am truly honest with myself I have underperformed in all of my 6 Marathons. Each race has a familiar look and feel, me being over confident, going to hard early in the race, then fading badly reduced to walk/running after 30km.
The past 5 marathons I have been trying to break 4hrs, which doesn’t seem that quick (5.41 pace) but I have always planned to “bank time” for later. Essentially I always burned myself out – really a lack of true endurance.
Looking back I had always cut corners with my preparation, always. I was the runner when the plan said to run 30km, I was happy with 27km. I missed sessions, slept through alarms, and ate anything I wanted because I thought I was “doing enough” to burn it off. Don’t get me wrong I did do a lot of training, but in hindsight it wasn’t enough for me to run a strong
The contradiction is why I would essentially choose to race something much harder if I couldn’t even run a strong
Marathon? I have been asking myself this for a while; a few people have even said it to my face.
The answer is choosing to run The North Face 100 in May next year was my catalyst to transform my training. After the Brisbane Marathon I had 40 weeks to build a body that would carry me over 100km of trail including 4500m of elevation. I knew that if I didn’t dramatically change what I did, I would be either broken in training OR broken on the race.
So a quick recap what have I done differently for the past 20 weeks;
Broke the problem down into different parts.
Volume. Efficiency. Strength. Nutrition. Gear.
- Volume. I needed to be able to run more km’s per week. On average I used to run 60km per week, not enough. I needed to be running 80-100km per week to be a chance of finishing. But my body couldn’t handle it. I had tight ITB all of the time, I could not do anymore (or so I thought).
- Efficiency. My running gait is terrible, my left arm swings across my body, my left leg sweeps around. Thus causing my ITB issues and wasting a lot of energy.
- Strength. With 4500m of elevation and descent at The North Face I needed strong legs so I didn’t get “blown quads” from the down hills. Blown quads, ITB and Nutrition are the 3 top reasons people DNF at The North Face.
- Nutrition. After hearing Run Benny Boy Run’s horror nutrition stories, I decided I needed to get my nutrition sorted. The right type of fuel and quantities are important. I’ll be running for 17hours or so, gels just won’t cut it.
- Gear. I needed the right hydration pack and a good pair of trail shoes to ensure my feet didn’t get smashed to pieces on the trails.
Once I had the problems I sought expert advice to find solutions and hear the hard truths.
I met with Professor Peter Reaburn, author of The Masters Athlete to develop a training plan with 4 different phases built into it. Pete’s best advice, work out how much time you have left after family, work and other commitments then build your training around that. I regularly touch base with Pete regarding my volume, and what is working and what isn’t, for an academic he puts things into very easily to understand terms.
Next I had my gait assessed by Anna McMurtie from Evolution Podiatry – the result is that I have no issues with my feet, but all of my troubles come from a lack of strength and stability in my glutes, knees and core. Anna was super supportive, gave me hope that I could be more efficient if I ironed my problems out.
I then met with Glenn Hansen from Vector Health – Glenn’s background is as a sprinter or “pure runner” as he calls it. Glenn took what Anna said and built me a plan. Glenn is great; no nonsense tell it how it is guy. I’ve been following Glenn’s plan for 20 weeks, 16 of those were pure strength building. I know that the program Glenn gave me combined with not missing one session has allowed me to build the capacity to run 100+km weeks without injury. Endless 1 leg squats, theraband clams, planks etc. has “fixed” my ITB issues, and believe it or not allowed me to run some mega weeks including a 111km week recently. I owe a lot to Glenn, he told me honestly that if I didn’t fix my weaknesses then I would not make it to the start line.
Next I spent a couple of coffee dates with Benny to discuss Ultra running. He said I needed to be consistent, don’t worry about mega weeks – just run consistently 80+km per week. Consistent blocks of training are what his advice was. Also to try and run longer, run back to back mid week and practice walking hills. All things I have been practicing religiously.
Nutrition is still a work in progress. I switched to Hammer and that seems to work well – although at the end of a 45km run the other week I had just lost my appetite to stomach any more perpetuem. So I’ll keep tweaking a few things to stay on top of my calorie intake. I’ve also been experimenting with caffeine, which has helped on the long runs.
Gear, I’ve fallen into love with Salomon gear (doesn’t help Killian and co wear it). I am running in Salomon XR Crossmax and wearing the XA 20 pack. I wish I had the cash for the Salomon S-Lab 12 Litre pack, it is the pack the elites wear and retails for about $200m, but for now I will be in my XA pack which I got from Wiggle. I’ve also switched from shorts to 2XU compression pants, that decision was an easy one after some terrible chafe after a 35km road run in the heat where I was using water to cool down. I love my Injinji socks, I wear nothing else, their trail socks with merino wool are also awesome – great company for the XR Crossmax, so no blisters on my feet!
Interestingly my volume went from 60km per week to 80km to 100km pretty quickly. I can comfortably run 100km per week now, which is really weird considering my volume of running pre-August. The other weird thing is that I am getting faster. I do ZERO speed work, just run a lot of hills and run a lot of km’s. When I go to run quick (like for the duathlon or recent 10km race here) I have another gear.
After putting pieces of my puzzle together, actually feeling like I have done enough work for once. I’ve run consistent and injury free since the Brisbane Marathon and that’s a great feeling.
On Sunday at 3.30am I start my Ultra journey, the unknown is exciting – stay tuned for next week.
“A goal is a dream with a plan” - Macca