Xterra World Trail Champs – Hawaii Here We Come!

Ok, so it’s been a while since my last post, so here’s a quick update:

Having gotten myself into good shape leading into the Vancouver BMO marathon back in May 12, I struggled a bit after angering my IT band again!

Rehab took me nigh on 3 full months to shake this off, which understandably put paid to much of my 2012 race schedule. However, tentatively ca,e back just in time with plenty of mountain running around my town of Whistler, BC (this was the coolest place to run and train during the heat and humidity during our summer) and toe the line for the ‘5Peaks Whistler’ race. Not a bad outing for an early comeback – came in 9th feeling great and strong.

Next up I was asked to join the Salomon Flight Crew team for the inaugural ‘Meet Your Maker’ 50 mile ultra over and around Whistler, Blackcomb  and the surrounding mountain ranges – epic race. Having not had the chance to log many miles since coming back from my IT issues, I was in no shape to churn out 50 gruelling mountainous miles, but was asked to join the relay team.

I happily accepted the opportunity to race the first and 2nd leg (just 30k out of the full 80k – were we a man or two short??) only to receive a call the night before asking if I would also be happy to race the 3rd leg (definitely a body or two short) – sure! Why not – Bad decision!

Epic run, but the 3rd leg resulting in a full 40+km was definitely one leg too much at this stage for me and the fact it was a straight 10km climb up Blackcomb mountain was not exactly beneficial. Awesome day and event tough and can’t wait for next years.

Next up was the ‘Whistler 50’ – a relatively flat and mainly asphalt trail run in Oct. Greeted by cold, wet and wintry conditions, this was always going to be a slogfest. Started out feeling great, happy following the lead guy around for the first of two laps and then something came out of no-where. My back, hips and hamstring got so tight that I was totally unable to stop or stretch and loosen anywhere off. Severely pissed about this, I found I was unable to run as my stride was being restricted and forced to drop just after 40k – feeling otherwise really fresh and strong.

Given how god I felt once stopping early and having a good soak in a hot tub to relax those strangely tight areas, my recovery was quick. So I did what all running addicts do – I entered a trail 1/2 marathon the following weekend – ‘Hallows Eve’. There had been torrential rain the day before and the terrain was sodden and we were all completely soaked within minutes of the start. This was an awesome run, great fun, challenging, slippy as hell but one I’ll definitely go back and run again. I could tell my legs were a tad jaded from the race the weekend before, but I felt great and finished strong in 4th.

Next up, ‘New Balance Fall Classic’ 1/2 road marathon in Vancouver. I hadn’t done much road racing or training since the early part of the year, so this was an opportunity to test the leg sped out and last hard training / tempo run before my ‘A’ race goal of the Xterra World Champs two weeks later. Felt good and fresh for much of this race, speed was there early on and was made to work extra hard to hold onto 5th place. Happy with my result but not my time – until I remembered that completely uncharacteristically I had been severely hungover a mere 12 hrs earlier – oops. Never again! Like I said, not my ‘A’ race.

So next up – Xterra. It took me a couple of days to get much of my strength and freshness back again after the road 1/2 and not wanting to start my taper too far out, I’ve since managed 3 or 4 good hard hilly trail runs. Also managed some bloody hard runs in deep snow, wich really drains you I can tell you!

One week out and looking forward – The hardest issue to deal with might just be the heat and humidity, especially coming from a wintry mountain. No excuses, can’t wait!

Once done, a few ‘easy’ weeks and some serious strength training in prep for a hard 2013 schedule which includes 6 day Trans Rockies race Aug 13-18th followed by Ironman Canada just one week later……ah well!

Ultra Marathons – Are You Ready?

So you’ve run a few marathons and you love a good challenge. You’ve read about Ultra marathons and perhaps the notion of running 50km, 50 miles or even 100 miles doesn’t seem too daunting, but just how different are these races than your ‘average’ marathon?

Anything longer than the 26.2 miles or 42.2 kms is considered an ultra marathon. However, the terrain on which they are ran are typically hugely different. Usually marathons are road races, where ultra races take place over varied terrain, but will predominantly cover most of their mileage on various trails. These can range from being very mountainous and hilly and some cases, also very technical underfoot with loose rock, roots, craggy ascents and descents, etc. Not all of them of course as there will also be a number on comparatively flat terrain. Therefore, these races are not for the faint hearted!

It takes an incredible amount of mental and physical strength to complete (yet alone ‘compete’!) these races. Depending on the race length and terrain, you may well find yourself out on the course from anywhere between 6 and even 24 hours. Apart from obviously logging sufficient mileage prior to the event, there is also a need to ‘mirror’ the challenge as much as is sensibly possible.

You will want to practice being up on your feet and running and walking for numerous hours. Of course, as with marathons, there is a point at which you will reach diminishing returns. Many training for these events will do a ‘long run’ of say 4 hours on a Saturday, followed by another long run on the Sunday, perhaps 3-4 hours. The idea being that you get to practise time on your feet and on the second day, you can mimic the feeling of running on tired legs.

You should also try to train as much as possible on similar terrain to that of the event. For example, if the race is over very hilly, mountainous terrain, simply training on a treadmill or on the roads will not really help replicate the race conditions.

Nutrition is also extremely vital to the successful completion of an Ultra. Much will depend on the length of the event, but typically anything over 4 hours or so, will require a very well rehearsed fluid and food plan and should have been tried and tested as much as possible prior to the day. We all know that dehydration plays a major part in how well we can perform and the effect it has, but perhaps unlike in a shorter event, such as a half or full marathon, getting this right can be the difference between finishing or not.

It is wise to carry water or even a carbohydrate replacement drink on your run. Many of these drinks will now also contain electrolyte replacement as well, which is another vital consideration. One should try to drink fairly frequently, taking sips as you move along (there is a risk of over drinking and this can carry its own problems!). It is also vital to look closely at the amount of carbohydrates you regularly digest en-route. Many will consume a number of ‘gels’ which contain much needed nutrients, such as ‘carbs’, electrolytes, potassium, etc, but after a while, these can get a little much for the gut. Sometimes, after hours of running, your body will be crying out or some solid food, or simply ‘reject’ it.

Many staged events will have frequent aid stations stocked with fruit, pretzels and even potatoes. You will even see some runners eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Everyone has a different tried and tested formula, but getting the mix of everything is essential. For me, often the carbs are not sufficient as my body is telling me it needs protein. Now what your body and more importantly, your stomach and GI tract will tolerate, is a very individual thing. Hence the need to practice not only running, but drinking and eating and being prepared to switch plans if necessary.

Assuming you can get the nutrition dialled in, then as long as you have sufficient training and approach the event in the manner that it commands (IE: build up the long run mileage gradually, be familiar with the type of terrain, taper and look after sore or damaged muscles, etc), then there is no reason to fear it. Just start out at a slower than normal pace and try to enjoy it – thanking all the volunteers along the way.