12 Weeks to 40m Ultra-marathon
OK, I like a challenge. And when one as cool as this is presented, I have to take it! “Vote with your feet” is an old saying from my Ju-Jitsu coach. Perhaps I’m taking this one a little more literally. I’m signing up for a 40mile ultra-marathon across the Brecon Beacons in December. And I have just 12 weeks to go from zero to hero.
Actually, as a former professional athlete with 13 World Titles to my name, being a sports performance expert, being a personal trainer and getting miles under my feet with my crazed huskies, it isn’t too much of an ordeal. Just needs a bit of careful planning and training – and a steep learning curve. As my ultra-marathon running adventure racing friend Gary Valance said “the race you struggle with is the one you haven’t prepared for.”
I’m going to be doing the run with my two huskies – Harley and Max, who are young and will be in their first working season. You may think that having two huskies out in harness in front of you will help over the distance. Actually, there are as many disadvantages as advantages.
I need to run at my dogs’ pace, which often isn’t appropriate to my running cadence. They will veer off after deer, rabbits and squirrels. I need to use my legs to brake when going downhill as I am being dragged by 8-paw drive. Then there’s the stop starts, the pit stops, the gates to go through, roads to cross, stiles to climb over – it puts a different demand on your body. It adds on average around 1-1.5mins to my mile times. I also can’t train with them if it is 14 degrees and rising as they will over-heat. It also adds to the mental pressure – I’ll be commanding a team that needs to work together. And my team is young and inexperienced.
I will also need to carry spare kit for them on top of mine – it will add to my rucksack load. As this is a self-sufficient race, I will need to carry everything myself, including the 3-500ml of water per hour that I will require and all food. More on the nutrition and hydration in later blog posts.
Last week was my first week in training (after deciding to do the race a couple of days previously) when I just though “hey, why not?” From then until now I have learned so much, surfed the forums, spoken with doctors, spoken with soldiers and marines, networked with ultra-marathoners, and read the excellent book “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall, which I highly recommend to anyone who wants to put one foot in front of the other. I’ll be getting across in my blog the lessons I learn as I go.
To start with, running an ultra-marathon is all about getting the miles under your feet. There are so many components to the race – physical fitness, mental condition, husky condition, team dynamics, nutrition, hydration, equipment, injury management – yet the most important thing is to get out there and run.
The key appears to be the weekly long run. To get an ever increasing distance under your feet in a single run, getting your body used to carrying out the distance. There are many schools of thought as to the correct distance to cover in training. The one that suits me, my lifestyle, my other training and fits with my knowledge base is to have a weekly average of around the final distance – 40miles per week.
This is to be broken down into a long run, followed by a second long run, and the rest of the miles coming as quickly as possible in the days afterwards, allowing for body recovery of course. Everything else on top is just icing on the cake.
This is my first week’s mileage:
Monday: 14 miles
Tuesday: 4.5 miles
Wednesday: 7 miles
Thursday: 3.5 miles
Friday: 4 miles
Weekly Total = 33miles
33miles is under the mileage I wanted to go for, yet is still a good starting point. As the week progressed my runs became easier on my legs as they just adapted to the appropriate running style.
It is also worth noting where I am running. I am doing the run across the Brecon Beacons – not exactly flat! And it is a cross country run. So my running terrain is cross country and hilly – to prepare me for the end goal. I use the military training grounds between Aldershot and Church Crookham as my main running ground. This is the old Para training ground known locally as ‘The Area’ and includes Beacon Hill with its sharp inclines, and every old-school Para’s friend ‘Flagstaff’ (known to civilians as ‘Caesars Camp’). I ensured that my running terrain was a complete mixture from sand, soft forest trails, tarmac, loose gravel, and mud – everything I can find.
I’m pretty pleased with my first week. It is a good base to start from. In the next few weeks, where I’m laying down the foundations of my conditioning, I will be looking to slightly increase my main long run and the run that follows it the next day. This will be built up to a long run of around 26miles with a run of 14miles the next day – getting 40miles under my feet in two days.
I also have had some very interesting texts from friends of mine in the Marines. It seems that I have an invitation to go and run the 30mile Dartmoor final selection run with recruits – how cool is that? Hopefully this will take place in late October or early November – a perfect final testing ground whilst allowing adaptation to take place before the big race. This gets me just as excited as the Brecons – the chance to run with elite soldiers on selection would be an amazing experience!
To close this post, I guess it is worth reminding myself that if you aren’t moving forward, you’re not even standing still – you’re going backwards…I want to move forward at some pace...