As some of you might have read, I registered for my first ultra-marathon at the weekend. July 14th may seem like a long way off now, but I’ve got a sneaky feeling that it’ll creep up on me at a rate of knots. Moreover, my body has never done anything close to this distance. My last marathon, which is the furthest I’ve ever run to date, was the best part of 10 years ago. Consequently, my preparations begin now. Here’s what I’m up to…
An ultra-marathon, as I’m fast finding out, is not a thing to be taken lightly. Understandably, the very first thing that I wanted to organise was my training schedule. This, however, proved to be a minefield. What I thought would be a quick Google search to download a plan, soon turned into a very elongated affair.
An ultra-marathon is an extremely long, arduous (possibly even tortuous) event. Consequently, the vast majority of people who run them are seasoned runners used to big distances. I am not. I’m able to run a slow but, I have to say, very comfortable 8 miles at present. I am very aware, however, that this figure will have to multiply eightfold on the day! As a result of most ultras attracting already seasoned pavement pounders and trail hounds, a lot of the training plans I came across were simply beyond me. One plan suggested an 18 mile run during week one of training, for instance. Understandably, I quickly skipped past that one.
Without looking at anything beyond simple training plans I already felt well out of my depth. Fortunately, I had very able and knowledgeable allies to call upon: Sim and Jen Benson. Fellow Ordnance Survey GetOutside Champions, Sim and Jen are trail runners and endurance athletes, regularly taking on long distance off-road events up and down the country. Furthermore, they’ve written books and guides on wild running and are routes editors and gear testers for Trail Running Magazine. Having met Sim at an Ordnance Survey event recently and hitting it off, I knew he could answer my many, many questions. Even at this very early stage, his help and advice have proved to be invaluable.
Starting with training plans, Sim told me that the most important thing was to build up my weekly miles. Informing me that he and Jen only have a day off from running once every 10 – 15 days, he thankfully suggested something a little less tough for me, to begin with. As such, I’ll be running at least 4 times a week over the next few weeks to increase my fitness. Counting back 16 weeks from the date of the event, which takes us to the latter stages of March, will mark the start of my official training programme.
When that 16-week plan commences I’ll then increase my running frequency to 5 and eventually 6 times a week. What surprised me was that my longest individual training run for the ultra-marathon will only be (‘only’, said as if it’s nothing!) 26 miles. The reason Sim gave for this is all to do with recovery time.
Basically, anything significantly longer than that would result in a much increased recovery period. This would negatively affect my weekly miles so I’d actually end up running less distance over the course of a week, which would obviously be a bad thing. As he said, it’s all about increasing those weekly miles and building up my resistance and endurance. Consequently, lots of good runs over the course of the week, followed by one long run at the weekend, is better than one mega run at the weekend followed by lots of short, very slow recovery runs.
Next we talked gear. Having registered for the Race to the Stones ultra-marathon on their website, one of the first things that I noticed was that all of the competitors wore a backpack. When I say backpack, in the world of endurance running they’re known as race vests. Obviously, having never attempted anything of this extreme distance before I’ve never previously had the need for one.
As I’ll be running all day and part way through the night, I need to carry spare layers, a waterproof jacket, a head torch as well as enough snacks, gels and liquid to sustain me for up to 24 hours. Plus, I need to ensure I have things like painkillers, some zinc oxide tape and an emergency blanket to hand. You know…just in case.
Next on my shopping list is a lightweight pair of trail shoes. Although July is supposed to be a warm, dry month, given that the ultra-marathon is an off-road event I’ll need footwear up to the job of bouncing over rocks, dealing with trail debris and able to grip on the mud and grass, particularly if we have a typical British summertime with rain and wind.
With over 1700m of off-road climbing to do over the course of my ultra-marathon, the only way I’m going to get to grips with hills is to run them. Therefore, like the race vest, these will be an almost immediate purchase so that I can get out into the hills running. The only other thing I need to consider about choosing new footwear is the level of cushioning I’ll need. Some trail runners are pretty stiff and ultra-lightweight for those competing on extreme terrain or over shorter distances. Given the distance I’ll be running I’ll need ones that have plenty of cushioning, even if that comes with a slight weight penalty.
As my ultra-marathon training progresses and my weekly mileage increases, I’ll have to start thinking about a fuel plan – something that Sim has already begun to impart some knowledge about. Until then, if you see me running in the near future, looking like death, shout me a bit of encouragement. If, however, I look like I’m about to stop, feel free to shout ‘come on get that lazy backside moving!’, or some other similar obscenity.
Don’t forget, you can help me raise much-needed funds for Mind, the mental health charity, by sponsoring me: www.justgiving.com/pottyadventures