Well, it has been a week since the big DNF. I've mostly reseted but I managed to get in a few yoga sessions, some walks, a swim (1600 yds; I know that is pathetic) and 10 miles on the McNaughton loop today.
On today's hike, I stopped and snapped photos; 45 of them in fact! I'll make an album sometime after school ends; basically I got most of the course from the start to the 8.1 mile mark.
My time to do this loop was 3:12. So even walking lesiurely and taking photos (keeping the watch running), my time for this loop was faster than 4 of my 7 loops last weekend. For the locals, the course was still in good shape and very easy to follow. The first photo shows some of the single track between mile 1 and the mile 2.6 Totem pole aid station,
Yes, the crew there (staffed by the Peoria Triathlon Club) wore bunny ears! That so many good athletes would give of their training time to help us out was touching.
Here is Bob Corbett (who did a couple of loops between working at the Totem pole aid station) going up Golf hill; for more photos see: http://www.pixagogo.com/9047285108
This shot is of the bluff that one has to go up on down on (three ups and downs) between miles 4 and 5. The bluff is much higher than it appears and the trails tend not to use switchbacks.
The last shot is of the footbridge at roughly 8.1 miles into the loop. One comes to the last stream crossing just a few minutes after this.
This bridge is always a sign to me that "hey, this loop IS going to end!" Though, there is still some work to do.
So, just how does one train for an ultra? Now, I wouldn't blame you if you didn't want to listen to me as most people want to be successful when they do an ultra. So, let us listen to someone who has a great deal of success.Sandra Brown is one of the best ultrawalkers in the world. Frequently, she is the first human being across the finish line at 100 mile races, even though she is in her 50's! For example, she handily won the 2004 Wandleweekend 100 mile race in 19:18, with the second place person (male) almost two hours behind. That isn't bad for a 55 year old woman! http://www.rotterdamsewandelsportvereniging.nl/pdf/ww2004.pdf
To see my sorry performance, check out no. 24 in the 24 hour; Sandra's performance can be found on the "100 E. M" race results (where E. M. stands for English Miles).
Here is Sandra with her husband Richard Brown; this is from Centurion USA 2000 where both became US Centruions.
Training for Ultras
I hope these notes will help others to benefit from what I have learned over the years, from wide reading and from practical experience of ultradistance training and racing. They are offered with all humility, not as gospel statements, but as thoughts which readers may take or leave, as they choose. It is important to find out what works for you. We are all different, with different tolerances of distance and speed. That in itself is an important lesson- not to assume, for example, that a particular schedule that seems good for one individual is necessarily transferable to another. But if you can shorten your learning process by profiting from others’ experience, just do it! I hope that my notes will give readers some useful hints and food for thought.
Cross Train With Pride. And Be Yourself!
A Glorious Addiction
Racing as Training
Races provide an excellent training environment. They give you the opportunity and the motivation to train for longer hours and miles than you would normally manage to do, with food, drinks, shelter, loos all provided, and a measured, safe and usually well-lit circuit. Don’t try to treat each race as an eyeballs out, competitive affair. If you do too many like this, you will risk physical and mental burnout. One Spring, when we were preparing for the Paris-Colmar in June, we raced 24 hour/200kms walking events every 1-2 weeks in April and May. After a few weeks the tell-tale signs of sore throats appeared, and our performances tailed off. We had overdone it - pushed our luck a bit too far, and needed to back off for a couple of weeks to let our immune systems recover.
In 1999 I did 9 races of 100 miles or more between April and October, including three in May. I survived and thrived, by treating perhaps 5 of those races as real competitive efforts, and the others as hard but sociable training spins, some way back from the - edge - of more or less all-out physical and mental commitment. You don’t have to prove yourself or push to the limit in every race. Decide which races are likely to be the more important competitions - for example, the 100 miles Centurion racewalks if that is your speciality - and have some training fun in the others. In 1999 I entered a number of - go as you please - 24 hour races in which I walked, aiming for 100 miles, but without fussing about the time I took, and making sure I drank and ate well enough, so that I was not over tired, and was ready for work on Monday and to resume training after a couple of days.
Running some of the time during some of your training outings can help to maintain all-round strength in the muscles, and help maintain cardiovascular fitness. Running helps to tone up the muscles which may be less used in walking. I find that the muscles supporting and stabilising the knee can become imbalanced when I only walk, and that hill running especially will strengthen the thighs and upper calves, making the knees feel and look stronger. At the same time it is important to walk regularly to keep strong and flexible those areas which are specially used in walking, including the shins (every newcomer to walking knows how the shins complain, and they can easily lose tone if you stop walking for too long,) the shoulders, hips and back.
S t r e t c h It Out
Gym - or Improvise
Speedwork Pays Off
It is vital to stretch well soon after any gym work, and the best time is while your muscles are still very warm and supple. If you can, it is a good idea then to have a walk, even just for a few minutes and not too hard.
The second was a tear in the quads. This occurred a couple of days after a 28 hours racewalk at Roubaix in France, during my -comeback- after Vicky’s birth when my muscles were still rather out of condition. I was squatting low down to get items out of a low cupboard, then stood up quickly - and felt the tear. I got straight on to the exercise bike for 20 minutes to help kick start the repair process, and repeated this several times in the next couple of days, together with gentle self-massage of the affected area, to promote healing and to help avoid the build-up and tightening of scar tissue. This hasn’t bothered me since then.
Finally, I have had tears in the hamstrings at the top of both legs. One was caused by doing unfamiliar gym work, then sitting on a 14 hour flight to Hong Kong, then going for a run, all within a couple of days. Something had to give, and it was a hamstring. In those days I was ignorant and careless about stretching, which could have avoided the problem. It was also a bad idea to accept an invitation to do an unfamiliar activity - gymwork - before a long journey when I would be bound to stiffen up.
The second tear (at least I have matching legs with old tears on both sides) was caused, to my great annoyance at the time, by an overenthusiastic physio who was supposed to be helping me to warm up gently before a 24 hour race and got carried away. I am now more wary of having physio at any time, and make sure that I stay in control, by saying at the outset what I want and don’t want to be done to me. Having never had a persistent injury (my varied training pattern means that any niggles have the chance to heal quickly, rather than get hammered and go critical,) I have never had regular physio or a steady relationship of trust with any physiotherapist who knew me and my needs. The closest I have come to this was receiving massage from Michael Gillan during the Nanango (Queensland) 1000 mile race in 1996. I had no hesitation in having a massage from Michael again at the end of the Melbourne 100 miles walk in 1999. Michael’s approach is very gentle at all times, and always works with the athlete and puts the athlete in control, thus minimising the risk of harm and maximising the benefit.
Very occasionally I will feel tightness in one or other hamstring, but I am lucky that neither tear has become a real problem. These days I stretch pretty diligently after exercise and am convinced of its value, and my cross-training approach plays a part, I am sure, in keeping me free of overuse injuries. More on stretching another time.
Racing at Ultradistance
By Sandra Brown
Races - they can be few and far between, rare and very special occasions, or they can be frequent experiences, training outings, a way of life. Either way, races happen on particular days - so do performances, and good performances require planning and preparation just as events do! I am going to look at aspects of racing - before the race, on the day, and afterwards - and mainly from an ultraperson’s viewpoint, though many points are equally applicable whatever the distance.
Planning your programme.
How often do you want to race? If you are an ultraperson, you will find yourself largely dependant on races for your regular fix. People who like 10kms can do it any time; they may race but they don’t have to, just to go the distance. If your love is the big stuff, competition is vital. Most of us don’t have lifestyles which lend themselves to families or friends - attending us for hour after hour along the roads. Such performances cannot easily be validated, and this limits the sense of achievement. In any case, ultraracing is a social activity - often silent, but friendly, and mutually supportive among members of the ultra community, even within a competitive environment.
So we need races, for all sorts of reasons. In our house, we look forward to the arrival around Christmas time of the race schedules and fixture lists for the coming year. These are produced by organisations like the International Association of Ultrarunners, the Road Runners Club, and the French National Walking Commission which coordinates the programme of Paris-Colmar qualifying races. Increasingly the schedules are available on the internet. We map out provisional schedules of races for the year, discuss our ideas with one another (the overlap is never 100%,) and talk to friends in the UK and elsewhere about their plans. It’s always fun to do races which are also social occasions, when several athletes and supporters can share transport and accommodation, and help each other.
How often you race will partly depend on your goals. If one of your goals for the season is to set a pb or break a record, try to identify a couple of races which will give you a good chance of achieving this. Do you want track or road, prefer warm or cool conditions, racing at home or abroad, will you have help or be reliant on good organisational support? By identifying two or three potential key events, you maximise your chances of a good build up and a successful outcome. At some distances, such as 1000 miles upwards, there may be one shot a year. At 24 hours, it is possible physically to aim for several races in a season, and to go from strength to strength in each one provided you allow time for recovery and make a conscious effort to keep well. If you plan to race at 24 hours in March, May, July and September (the months may need shifting for different locations,) you may set new pbs in each one. You might intersperse shorter ultras or non-ultras between these, but allow a week or two for recovery after a long one, before racing again.
If you are seriously addicted to distance, and your idea of a family fun weekend is another 100 miles on the clock, you may want to identify several races in the calendar, and aim to do as many as your fitness, time and budget will allow. Be ready to be flexible, especially if you are not fully fit or well at some stage. Don’t become a slave to the schedule in a way that puts at risk your racing goals, your health, or other life priorities.
In some years, there may be a particular race which means a lot to you (eg a Centurion qualifying race,) or perhaps the possibility of selection for a club or national team for particular competition. In this case, it’s especially important to make your plans around key races, and where selection is concerned, important to give some thought to races which will give you a chance of showing good form, and then to plan carefully the run up period to stay at your best.
Before the Race
You’ve decided your schedule, perhaps at a mix of distances, some domestic, perhaps a couple further a-field. Now work for it, and make it work for you!
The first part of this series considered training for ultras. There is no substitute for year round, maintenance training for ultradistance athletes, enough to keep you fit and strong without tipping you over into illness or injury. Within this general approach, there is plenty of scope for variety, cross-training, and rest to avoid tiredness and overuse injuries. You can’t expect to produce something from nothing when you race. If you haven’t trained you will notice the deficit; and when you race pretty regularly, you will notice the benefit, cumulatively, in your fitness and strength. At the same time, a big mental element is involved at ultradistance. There are many fit, strong athletes who don’t do themselves justice at long distances, while apparently weaker/slower/older athletes produce better performances. So training isn’t everything, by any means!
If you didn’t race, your training programme would probably still have variations from day to day and week to week. Factoring planned ultraraces into your training schedule means easing off the training volume and intensity in the days before a race. From midweek before a weekend 24 hour race, train lightly (no muscle -
taxing speedwork,) relax, then ease off altogether for the last couple of days. We do not like doing nothing, and there is no need for this body - used to exercise - will feel stale and restless. It’s important to keep the circulation and muscles moving and to stretch gently. Go for a good walk; if you are away from home, go sightseeing, but don’t get carried away and exhaust yourself!
Set yourself up.
The second part of this series looked at nutrition and supplements for athletes. Aim for year round health to maximise training and racing opportunities and minimise illness and injury. As you taper your training before a race, maintain your usual diet. Don’t cut down your meals a lot because you’re not training; you could end up weak, unwell, and poorly prepared for the race. Don’t eat more either; carbo-loading before a race, however tempting, is likely to make you feel bloated, and could make you ill before or during the race. Keep well hydrated with plenty of water and well diluted drinks during the days and hours before the race. Some experienced ultrarunners emphasise protein (along with adequate but not excessive carbohydrate) in the days before a race and after, for the physical strength and resilience needed during an event and for quick recovery.
Setting yourself up for a race in this way can make all the difference - reducing the risk of a bad-tum race, and making it easier to perform and survive in a race when feeding turns out to be difficult for some reason, and we all have such races! If you have a bad tum-race, analyse why. Did you overeat or drink before or during the race? Did you eat or drink something which disagreed with you and which is best avoided another time?
Just thinking about your race programme is part of motivating yourself to train and race effectively. Enjoy the atmosphere which surrounds a race and let it work for you. But try to keep it all in balance. Not everyone thrives on excitement. Before a race, you can be outgoing but still be inwardly calm, relaxed and centred. Sometimes, especially if you are abroad, you may need to create and hold on to your inner calm and space, while participating in civil functions and formalities! If your race plans have to change, because of injury, illness, work or family reasons, take it in your stride and look forward to the next time. Don’t race if you are injured or ill; you risk knocking yourself up big time and putting in jeopardy your future plans.
Ultra-athletes do it often!
Make the whole experience of racing, including before and after, part of your life, and this will help you cope well with even extraordinary pressures, in sport and elsewhere. Get used to how it feels, including the physical and emotional ups and downs around races which follow a familiar cycle - you will recognise them once you have been there a few times, and will be better able to ride the peaks and troughs. We like to race often, which may mean one or two 24 hour races a month from February to October. The more often you race, the easier it is to take the whole racing experience in your stride, and the more opportunity you have to learn what works for you.
Some people think that doing too much LSD (long slow distance)- ie too many ultradistance races - will damage their speed. There are in fact many examples of athletes at all ages who compete successfully over a wide range of distances, from sprints to ultradistance, people like Eleanor Adams and Stephen Moore in the running world, Colin Young and Bob Dobson in racewalking. If you want to maintain speed for shorter races like 10 kms, 10 miles or marathon, you need to be prepared to rehearse your target speed in training. How you train should fit with your personal goals. Even if your focus is entirely at ultradistance, you may want to be able to race pretty hard and to achieve a turn of speed without stress, when you choose. If so, make your training multi-purpose: don’t avoid the hills, and every now and then, clip along for a bit just for fun. Being able to handle speed helps in longer races, eg for tactical bursts (which in a 24 hour race may need to be sustained for some time,) and to allow you to maintain a hardish pace, perhaps for minutes, perhaps for hours, without fear of stress or physical upset, to achieve a particular goal.
If you race often, some races will probably be more important than others. Use the less important to experiment a little. People who race 10kms can experiment with pace, drinks, etc in training. It’s much more difficult to simulate race conditions at ultradistance. Don’t be afraid to vary your race routine; if there is some aspect of your routine you’re not satisfied with, think about possible problems and solutions, and choose a race to try something different – you might make an important discovery about yourself and what works for you. Never just accept as gospel what other athletes or coaches say (including me!) Listen to others’ advice and experience, but remember we’re all different. With dozens of ultra races on the clock, I’m not complacent! I’m still making and enjoying new discoveries so that racing is both a familiar friend and a fresh and fascinating experience every time.
Don’t get paranoid.
Some people fret if their pre-race routine is disturbed. Learn from experience what works for you and try to follow it. Take a low risk approach if you can, don’t invite stress or problems (eg eating food you know isn’t your thing, or staying out too long in the sun.) But don’t get paranoid about ideal preparations - relax, be sensible, and take things in your stride.
Sometimes changes in routine can even bring pleasant surprises. You have a long journey with little sleep, unfamiliar climate and food, a scramble to arrive on time - and then you have a blinder. You could be highly motivated by all the challenges, so stay confident and positive. Don’t be dismayed by external factors, travel problems, less than ideal race facilities, or the overheard remarks of other athletes or their crews (who may be trying to put you off.) Think for yourself, be prepared, stay calm, and think positive. You may find your own personal version of Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) helpful in keeping yourself positively minded and motivated. It’s a good excuse for talking to yourself!
Avoid the Stampede
There is good evidence that, in a long race, the best results are obtained by even, steady pacing - knowing what pace you want to maintain and sticking to it for as much of the time as possible. Some people believe (and, again, there is evidence) that negative splits, a marginally faster pace in the second half of the race than the first, is even better than one, steady pace throughout. Of course this is just the opposite of what our mind and body, uncontrolled, will tend to do! It takes discipline to set your own pace and stick to it, blinkering yourself to the opening stampede you see in many races, and to the tactical manoeuvres of other racers going on around you. You will have the last laugh when the early speedsters falter in the latter stages of the race (if not before!)
You need to work out your goal pace on the basis of your target distance/time, with a realistic allowance for a bit of down-time for toilet stops, etc. If your target pace has been carefully and realistically considered, try and stick to it if you can. Try to avoid the temptation to speed up in the early stages of the race, or to slacken off when the going gets tough, when you are tiring and things start to hurt, as they will if you are working at your sustainable limits after several hours on the road or track. Tell yourself it is the same for everyone, and remind yourself of your race goals. But in any long race, you should also tune in to yourself and heed the signals. If the first 20 kms or 50 kms feel unusually hard, consider easing off a touch rather than risk blowing the whole race - you can always pick up the pace again later if you feel better. Conversely, if, after 100-150 kms at target pace in a 24 hours race, you are feeling really well and strong, you might consider winding up the pace a little. Any adjustments to target pace should be slight, if there is a long way still to go, and you should stay closely tuned to your mental and physical response to any given pace.
I know how easy it is to get carried away at the start when you are fresh, especially if others charge ahead. I prefer to start steadily, often standing around the middle or towards the back of the group. Getting boxed in is rarely a serious problem in ultra races, as even relatively large fields soon sort themselves out. Starting steadily gives you a chance to warm up, to get a feel for the course and for the weather conditions, the quality of the organisation and the support (marshalling, drink and food,) and to get a feel for the others around you (who’s there, how do they seem to be approaching this race, do they look fit and sparky today or out of condition?) Finally, starting steadily gives you a chance to get a feel for yourself, how good do you feel today, on this course (or track,) in the conditions of this race? Above all, starting steadily helps you to set your own pace, create your own space. Don’t be afraid to look left, behind. There is nothing clever about being caught up in a stampede. You will earn respect by showing that you have your own race plan and the sense to stick with it.
What do you personally want to achieve in this race? Are your goals highly individual (eg to achieve a particular time or distance,) or competitive (eg to win the race or to beat someone else, or for your team to win collectively?) How far are your goals related to other competitors in the race, much or maybe not much at all? Whether your goals are individual or competitive, it can only help you to have a good idea of what represents an optimum, sustainable pace for you. If you then vary your pace for tactical reasons, you know what you are doing, and you are deciding your race strategy, not having it decided for you by others.
Race tactics is primarily about gaining psychological advantage and/or position. Having your own pace and space, visibly sticking to your own game plan and not meddling with others, can be one of the most effective tactical approaches at ultradistance. There may be times, however, when you see psychological value in putting pressure on others by putting in bursts of faster paced walking or running at the start of the race, or at some stage during the race, especially when you are overtaking another competitor and want to look decisive and strong at this point. Use a fast start only if you are properly warmed up, and are confident you can keep up the pace for sufficiently long to achieve and maintain a lead. Variable pace tactics can be highly effective, for example, by discouraging an opponent if you are able to overtake and pull ahead when he/she is tiring. But beware.
Don’t Blow Up
We probably all know athletes who acquire a reputation for injudicious bursts of speed, after which they "blow up", sometimes throw up, and are overhauled again easily by the people they overtook. Some people never seem to learn, so presumably they get kicks out of such tactics, but such erratic pacing does their overall performance no favours. It is easy to damage your chances by trying too hard to get ahead or stay ahead of someone, or to stay with someone who is going too fast for you at that moment. Be patient, they may well tire and come back to you later if you stick at your goal pace. You must develop a feel for the point at which you are digging too deep, getting into diminishing returns in a way which will have ‘revenge effects’ later on.
You can build up the ability to use variable pacing. In training, try putting in hard, fast, sustained bursts, and keep up the effort on long hills. In some races, try to experiment with pacing, tactics, feeding strategies, etc under real race conditions. This is useful in giving you psychological and physical stamina, resilience and confidence about your ability to cope with and respond to different situations.
Even if your goals are essentially personal, might other competitors, knowingly or not, help you to achieve them? In ultradistance races, mutual assistance is very common, even between people who are competing fiercely with each other! There have been events when I have walked for many hours with another competitor. Such collaboration can be beneficial to you both, keeping you moving along at a good pace, providing company and encouragement when you might tire and flag, eg during the night on a dark, quiet circuit. But keep asking yourself if this cooperation is suiting your purpose. If your goal is a pb at the time or distance, and you are lucky enough to find someone at your goal pace who will effectively pace or help pull you along to a pb, then use them. If this conflicts with their goals, you will know soon enough if they change pace abruptly or take other evasive action. If someone else latches on to you, do you mind? If you do mind, for any reason, eg they may be disrupting your pace or disturbing your concentration, you will need to put space between you, eg by pushing ahead, or by taking a tactical stop or short pause.
What you prefer to eat and drink during races, and how often, are very personal matters. Get ideas from others, but don’t just copy them, or assume that, because race organisers provide particular foods, they are palatable and digestible! My earlier note on nutrition made some suggestions on feeding and drinking during races.
Facing the Music
Should you use a Walkman during races? A powerful example of the value of music during a long event is the annual 340 miles Paris-Colmar racewalk, a three day, almost continuous event on roads across France. It is a requirement that all participants are shadowed closely by a support vehicle, and the custom is for music to be relayed from loud speakers on the vehicle, throughout the day and night. For the walker and the supporting crew, the music sets a rhythm and, as everyone tires, helps motivate and keep them awake. Each walker’s choice of music is like a signature tune. And the approaching sound of music tells spectators, and other teams, that someone is coming along the road.
If you find that using a personal stereo is helpful during races, go ahead. Racewalkers in particular often find the rhythm and swing of the music helps their style and pace. Some people have a radio or stereo playing for much of the time. There are risks in this, notably that the music will distract you from concentrating on your goal pace, and encourage you to go at a pace you can’t sustain, or even lead you to forget to eat and drink. There is also a risk that the stereo will lose its effectiveness to give you a lift when you really need it, if you use it so much that the tapes become like background music which you hardly notice.
I like to think of the stereo partly as a reward for making good progress, so that I tell myself I will not use it during the first 12 or 15 hours of a race, but after that I can have music if I want to. The effect of this is to reserve the stereo for times when I may really need it, so that its effect is not blunted or wasted by overuse. In many races of 100 miles or 24 hours, I don’t use the stereo at all. I like to feel "centred" - in touch with my body and in control of my race. I also like to be aware of the race environment and to respond to spectators and organisers. I aim for a balance of association and disassociation, in the jargon. But there are times when we all need help, when we need a distraction to blot out pain for a while, need a lift to get us going again, need a change for a while if time is dragging, or just want a reward. Sometimes in 24 hours races, I put on music for a while (and have a cup of tea!) when I have done 100 miles to reward that effort and to help keep me swinging along without losing momentum.
After the race
Enjoy! However the race has gone, respect the effort you made and be good to yourself. Recover, eat well, and take a vitamin and mineral supplement to help protect you against infection. If you have made many hours of continuous effort, adjust your routine a bit to encourage a good recovery. You may be back at work and busy at home - this is the real world. But eat and drink well and regularly, and try to get to bed a bit earlier for a few days if necessary, until you feel refreshed.
It’s common after a 24 hours race for the body to be so flushed with endorphins, nature’s painkillers, that for the first day or so you are not even fully aware of the physical damage to feet and muscles, and are on an emotional high. By the time you are "coming down," the healing process will be well underway and blisters and aches will already have eased.
As for training, I like "active rest." It’s a good idea to keep yourself moving. Promoting your circulation boosts healing and the immune system, and a gentle walk to move the muscles will facilitate stretching and aid recovery. Cross-training, easy cycling indoors and out, swimming, walking without straining,– are all good recovery exercises in the days after a race. Within a week you can be back to something like your normal training pattern, but go easy and don’t get carried away. It’s better to take a bit longer to recover, and to build up carefully, than to risk injury or illness.
Take home lessons!
What did you learn from that race? Whether it went well or not so well, there will be learning potential. Did you have a plan and stick to it? Did it work out? Did you achieve what you had hoped? Analyse the strengths and weaknesses of that race experience and of how you approached it. Would you tackle the race differently if you did it again? Can you learn from what others did in the race, how they paced themselves, what they ate, drank, or wore? What about the race organisation - did it live up to your expectations? Would you recommend the race to others, and consider doing it again? Have you any suggestions to pass on to the organising club?
I hope these personal reflections on racing at ultradistance will interest and help you. Go for it, enjoy your racing, the achievements, the exhilaration, the pleasure and good company it brings - and good luck!
There you have it.
Now, for an interesting report on one of the past Centurion USA races, check out:
That article had previously appeared in Sports Illustrated.