Ultramarathons. What , why and how are the questions I'm most commonly asked. Hopefully you find some answers here from my own personal perspective. My other blog at www.mile27.com.au/blog is full of information on running and health and fitness in general.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

A testing week

Training has been a bit inconsistent of a late. An annoying calf injury from months ago combined with the occasional twinge hasn't given me much confidence in the muscle. I've had some good runs but then pulled up sore the next day and needed a few days off which has been very frustrating. In previous years I've tried to put in a fairly big mileage week just before Xmas to see where my training is at and despite the niggles I thought I'd try it again this year. I'd either break down completely or hopefully get through it ok and give me some confidence going into the new year. The idea was to get in over 130km and finish with a 40km+ run on saturday. A little ambitious perhaps considering the last few weeks were around 80km but I needed to know where I was at to formulate some plans with confidence next year.

The week wasn't looking to good when the calf stirred up again last week and meant taking four days off. So it was with nervous trepidation I headed of for the first run of the week on monday - an easy 13k run on the trails in Hampstead Heath Suprisingly I felt great, didn't notice the calf at all and really enjoyed the run despite the cold and the dark which necessitated wearing a head torch. Running through the heath in the dark with no-one else around is quite a surreal experience. As you cant see anything trails that are as familiar as the back of my hand in the daylight take on a completely different quality in the dark.
One run down four to go.

Tuesday's run was meant to be a track session but as the coach had scheduled a very short session and because last weeks track session was moved to the grass on the inside of the track beacause it was so cold the track was covered in ice I decided to do my own session - one of my favourites - five repeats up Highgate West Hill. Its just over 1km up an incline which starts around 8% and then gets steeper and steeper as you ascend. Now you might be wondering whether someone with a suspect calf should be sprinting up a steep incline and you would be right but sometimes you have to take a bit of a chance in training and somehow I felt I would be ok. So after a good 8km warm up I reached the hill and away I went. A bit gingerly at first wondering if this was very silly but with each repeat gaining confidence and by the last two was posting some reasonable times ( around 4.45) which although not my fastest wasn't too far off the pace. Running home the calf felt a little tight but I hoped ok.

Wednesday's run was a 5.5km run to the club followed by a steady paced 24km and then the 5.5k run home. I set off gingerly again waiting for the calf to complain but felt nothing so was greatly encouraged. The run was around the major parks in London - Regents, St James, Green and Hyde Park. We averaged around 4min 15 pace (7min miles)for most of the run with some faster paced miles in the middle. By the time I got home 2.5 hours later and 35km covered I was feeling pretty pleased with myself.

Thursday was a day off. So I spent an hour stretching and did a 90 minute Yoga class. Something I've added to my schedule recently in an effort to increase my flexibility. I'm not getting any younger and I've always said I want to be running when I'm 100 so figure I need to focus a bit more on the flexibilty side of things as you tend to lose this the older you get.

Friday's plan is an easy 2 hour - 25km run in the heath on the trails. The trails tend to be more forgiving on the legs despite the frequent up and down so I try to do as much running on them as I can. It was so cold today all the paths that are usually completely muddy were frozen as was one of the main ponds in the heath. It made running a much easier experience as I wasn't struggling for grip sliding all over the place on the mud and also allowed me to run on the minor trails that are normally too muddy to run on. I like getting off the main trails away from all the dog walkers and mums with prams as I can just ejoy the run without having to dodge small children and unpredictable dogs. Actually the small children are more unpredictable than the dogs! It's not a fast run but there is a lot of hills and the trails twist and turn so I am not really worried about the distance or speed. Just an easy very enjoyable run.

Saturday is the big day - a 40km + run. So far so good, the calf has held up well as have the legs but today is the real test - a marathon distance run on very tired legs. I am thinking of running 100km next year and wanted to do a long run on tired legs and see what kind of pace I can comfortably do to give me some idea what I can run 100km in. Todays run is a run to Regents park then eight laps around the park of 4.4km per lap and then run home. A bit boring you might think but I didn't want to think about where I ran I just wanted to get into a rythym and hold it for as long as possible. I set off in freezing conditions and pouring rain, not really ideal but nothing I could do about it. The first lap felt hard on the legs - under 20 minutes but only just - around 4.30min km or 7.15 per mile and I was wondering if I could keep this up or was I going to get slower and slower and be reduced to a pathetic shuffle. Second lap was faster and I felt a little better and by the third lap my legs were now warmed up although the rest of me was still freezing. Laps 4 and 5 are always the hardest as I was getting tired but still had a long way to go. By the time lap 6 came around and my speed was still getting faster without any real effort and I was feeling confident I could finish the run comfortably. Laps seven and eight were the fastest of the lot and I even managed to run back home which is predominantly all uphill a minute quicker than I ran down. It was still pouring with rain and I was getting colder and colder so I was very glad to knock off 44km in 3hours 16 minutes and feel like I could have kept running for another hour without too many problems. I was pretty happy with that.

Sunday is a well deserved rest day and I woke up expecting to be a bit stiff and sore and was pleasantly suprised to not feel any more tiredess in the legs than normal. A good solid week of training in the legs leaves me with a lot of confidence for the upcoming year. Still to decide which races I will do but will have a good think over the Xmas break and set the plans for 2009.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Why - Part 1

Running through the delights of Hampstead Heath on a brisk autumn day transported me back to some of the races I've done. I could have been anywhere, I couldn't hear any traffic, there was no-one else around and all I could hear was the sound of my feet hitting the ground. At times like this my mind wanders and every now and then I have a moment of complete clarity about something. In this case it was about why I run ultra's. We all get a thrill when we see or do something that is out of the ordinary, a great concert puts a smile on our face and a buzz inside us for hours, a good film similarly so, watching someone score an impossible goal or run a world record leaves us feeling amazed and in awe of the athlete. This is why we are attracted to going to the concert or watching sport in the first place; that potential to see something incredible which will lift our spirits above the ordinary of every day life. It gives us a moment of escape as we are drawn into the game, race , concert or film. Why do we desire this escape in the first place? Are our lives that depressing that any chance we get we try and escape from it? I dont think so, I think it's just that our daily lives don't come with the extreme's of emotion that watching sport or entertainment can bring about. Obviously occasions like weddings or a new born baby are experiences that are unrivalled by anything but they are few and far between in our lives.
But it's at these extremes of emotions that most of us feel truly alive. On our wedding day we feel more love than at any other time in our lives, not just the love of our partner but the love of everyone who attends, at a funeral we also feel the intense love of a person departed or at the birth of a new born baby we are filled with joy for the parents and it fills us with hope of a wonderful life for the newborn. In between these occasions our normal lives dont have any of the same joy, love ,happiness, excitement as these occasions provide so we go seeking them elsewhere.

Unfortunately to bring about these extremes of emotions it almost always revolves around someone else - it's someone else scoring the goal, or running the world record and you can only experience them if your team is the one scoring the goal or if you actually enjoy the film. Sometimes our team will lose, our favourite athlete wont make it to the final or the tube will break down after the concert and all the positive emotions and feelings we experienced are frustrated away sitting on a tube . What if you could get that same feeling but it was you doing the something amazing rather than you being the observer. Then you would be in control of what happened, you wouldn't have to wait until your favourite band started a world tour, or the olympic games came around to get that buzz inside.

Ultramarathons give you that chance. Finishing something that to most people seems impossible gives me that same buzz of watching someone else do the impossible only a million times more intense. It heightens all of my emotions, both good and bad throughout the race. The pain of running for that long, the joy of realising the finish is near and the feeling of total and utter contentment and peace after finishing is something that is rarely felt in normal life. Ultra's also ask many questions of yourself - how bad do you want to finish? how much pain are you prepared to handle? how far are you prepared to push yourself? why dont you stop running and walk? .. no-one will know. Sometimes the answers to those can be not what you think or hope , other times they can suprise you in ways you never thought possible. Regardless of what the answers are you learn a little more about yourself.

Granted you cant do as many ultramarathons as you can watch games of football but every training session is a journey towards something incredible. So four, five, six days of the week you are doing something that will make the impossible a reality. Although the buzz after a training session is nowhere as intense as after a race, there is still a real feeling of well being and contentment after you've completed another session that will bring you to the achievement of finishing the race. For me thats one of the reasons why I love doing what I do.
And here is the rest of it.