Ok, so it turns out that yes I am more stupid than I gave myself credit for (see part 1). Suckered into an event that I know is impossible unless I commit 100% to my training. This time it is different. I now have family commitments, a wife, two young kids and less flexibility in my work. And my training load will be significantly more than I’ve ever done before.
The first step is to find an appropriate training program, one of the friends I was watching previously recommended Mark, The Body Mechanic’s programs, and I signed up. The program itself is really easy to follow, and broken up into a “Beginner”, “Intermediate” and “Advanced” program.
Based on the descriptions, I felt I was in the intermediate category, but didn’t want to get to race day wondering “Could I have trained harder?”. After consideration, I decided to tackle the “Advanced” program, knowing I could wind back if it got too much.
What does training look like
Over the 16-week program, I was gradually increasing my weekly kms starting around 70km (43.5mi) and ending at 100km(62mi). My longest training run was around 43km/26mi (should have been 45km/28mi). You can see my progress on Strava.
Marks program, calls for a variety of terrains. Lots of rolling hills; Up/Downhill repeats: up to 16 times up and back the same 500m stretch of a hill; Stairs: up to 1hr repeating the same stair segment, and these are usually in the middle of a 14+km (8.7+mi) run. These runs are boring, very boring and repetitive. Right now you are training your mental capacity as much as your physical. At these ultra distances, this is now a mental game, not just a physical one. My training pace was slower than I expected, Aerobic. But eventually, as my VO2 max increased, so too did my aerobic pace. I was now running faster than ever before.
It’s not all fun and games though. You need to fit the “Big” trail day into your everyday life, set on Sundays but I had to move it to Saturdays sometimes, this is a big chunk of your day gone. Usually aiming to be at the trailhead by first light, this means regular 4:30 wake-ups, to get out and back before the family commitments.
You have to commit, regardless of the weather, when it is torrential and blowing in sideways, at 5 am in the middle of winter, you still need to get the kms in. Social commitments need to be put into context. What time do I need to be in bed? Should I stay out later? Should I have that extra beer/wine? You can’t be a recluse and give up your social life, but everything needs to be put into perspective.
Speaking of sleep. This is the one resource you cannot get enough of. You will get tired, You will get exhausted, and you will get grumpy. Without enough sleep, you will not be able to train, your body cannot recover fast enough, and you will get sick. Aiming for 8hrs minimum, even if this means getting to sleep by 8:30 pm. Napping during the day, whenever there is a chance, catch as many z’s as you can.
You will get hungry. With all this training and burning of calories, you will get hungry. Your second most demanded resource will be food (along with water, I always have a bottle of water next to me). Make sure the food within easy reach is good. Not, lollies/sweets, processed junk. You will always be looking for a quick and easy snack. Make it easy for yourself. Fruit, nuts, protein shakes, keep the healthy snacks within easy reach, and you won’t have a problem.
I’m not doing a great job of selling this am I? But, this is a commitment. One that affects your life (and those around you) in more ways than you bargain for.
Training Take 1
By the time the 16-week training program kicked off, there were 3 of us, from our old Bootcamp days that were signed up for the full 100km. And we started training in January 2020. This training season was the worst I’ve experienced. It bucketed down consistently, and training on the trails would consist of mid-calf deep “puddles”, clay that was so water-logged it would swallow your entire foot. But we persisted, week after week with the mantra, “We can’t choose the weather on race day”. It was absolute misery, but we were committed. Inevitably with these training loads, niggles and injuries sneak in, everything was going great for me, but ‘Bolho’ changed his training due to injury, and Jez’s work demands meant he couldn’t commit to training as much (and he would wind it back to the 50km race).
Then, as it turns out around 4 weeks to race day, the incessant rain Australia suffered over summer, had taken its toll. This year the 6ft track (which would have been #6 for me) was cancelled, and now the UTA100 will be postponed until the end of October. I was only one week away from the last “BIG” training week, before my taper. I wanted to be angry, but in reality, there was nothing I could do. I was the fittest I had ever been, running the fastest I ever had, and I had no race to push myself on. What else was there to do but rest?
Training Take 2
So with the postponement of the race, I took it easy for a month or so, knowing that I’d have to start training all over again. In July we kicked it off again, this time it was just me. Bolho, and Jez, although still registered, weren’t able to commit anymore (and I don’t blame them). Starting from the beginning, it just didn’t feel the same. The weather had vastly improved, but I just wasn’t mentally into it as much. By this stage, I was exhausted, I had had covid (not long after stopping training) and that took it out of me. As training started I was getting little niggles here and there. This definitely was not the same as the first time around.
But I persisted. Listened to my body, and fought against my brain. The weeks ticked over. The long lonely training sessions gave me plenty of time to mentally prepare for race day: What was my race plan? What are the distances of each checkpoint? What and who is at each checkpoint? When will I stop, and fill up with water/fluids? Should I stop at every checkpoint, or can a skip some? I had never had to think through a race plan so much. But I did have plenty of time to go through it.
Do I have ALL of my mandatory gear? Oh, yes this race has an extensive list of mandatory gear. And yes we had to carry it all. They will check and penalise if you are missing anything.
- Backup lamp
- Thermal top/pants
- Waterproof jacket/pants
- Thermal gloves
- Hi-Vis vest
- Emergency space blanket
- Whistle + Compass
- Compression bandage
- Water bladder (2L capacity)
- Food portions
2 Weeks out from race day. Mandatory gear was all sorted, checked and signed off. One less thing to think of.
1 Week out
On the Friday of the week before race day, I get a message from my friend (whom I watched last year) asking me, “What do you think of the new course?”… I had no idea what she was talking about, a new course? I jumped online, checked emails, and sure enough. Due to the weather closing a lot of the trails they have to change the course, but can’t make it official until all stakeholders sign off. WTF. All my plans are now out the window. It wasn’t until the Wednesday before the race that they released the official course. There was now 1500m (4920ft) less elevation and significantly more fire trails. In my head I am thinking, this isn’t what I signed up for, I want the full deal, not the light version. But if I learnt anything this year, it is that I need to adapt.
Now I need to re-configure my race plan, the Checkpoint distances have changed, no support crew at CP3 or CP4 anymore only CP5. What does this mean? Panic slowly creeps in.
Thur - 2 Days to go
Final packing of my race pack, and drop bags because I have no support crew anymore. Going to sleep Thursday night is the most nervous I have felt ever before a race.
Friday - 1 day to go
Work as usual, and drive up to the mountains before the traffic hits. It is freezing up here and blowing a gale. No worries, the forecast for tomorrow is no wind and a top of 17C(62.6F). Time to head off to race check-in, now I’m starting to get excited. This is real, we are here. This is what I have been training for, since January. On the way up, I realise I left my race food in the freezer at home, so can’t drop my drop bags until Sarah gets up here (hopefully before 7 pm).
Sarah and the kids arrive, and I’m all set to go. Let’s get to bed early
Around 2 am, Abi (6) came into our room, she had “had two bad dreams”. She knew how important this was to me that she waited until her second bad dream before she woke us up. We swapped beds, so she could snuggle in with mum, and I could get better sleep in the other room.
That was fine until around 4 am as the temp plummeted the battery level in the smoke alarm dropped and started to chirp.
This wasn’t the pre-race sleep I was after, but I have to adapt.
It’s finally here. The morning routine goes exactly to plan, and the kids are great. They know how much this means to me. As we are driving to the start line, I realise I didn’t bring my pre-race bananas. Oh well, a small hiccup, I’ve got plenty of food/energy I should be fine.
As we are walking from the car to the start line, we can see the earlier waves of runners crossing our path. This is real. The emotions start to kick in. There are only a handful of times in my life that have I felt this. It’s freezing at the start line, and the wind is blowing, but we are here. Then Sarah asks me “Did you bring your hat?”, “shit, no I left it at the accommodation, I forgot to bring it”. Looks like I’m doing this without a hat, better make sure the sunscreen is applied liberally.
5 mins to start
I leave the family, head to the start chute, and find myself in a good position near the front. This is real, I’ve made it this far.
At this point, it’s pure excitement and adrenaline. No nerves, just adrenaline.
I look over and see Sarah and the kids waiting to see me off. It’s going to be a long day.
The race can be found here