So, you’ve done the work. Months of training, thinking, dreaming, getting ready for this next big event. With a week to go, you’re probably starting to have questions, even doubts: am I ready, have I trained enough, will I make a fool of myself, how on earth will I run for 10, 12, 14 or more hours? For me, thinking back to my first really big run (Kep Ultra 100k, in 2014), I remember clearly the sense of anticipation and foreboding that occurred during those, long drawn-out, two weeks of taper. Suddenly I wasn’t out running 10-12 hours a week, Instead, I had lots of time sitting around, planning, packing, questioning myself and my sanity. My mind was in overdrive, and I bet yours is too! But don’t worry, it’s completely normal, and you are completely sane, I promise!
The most nerve-racking question for me was, and still is, how on earth will I manage being out on my feet for so long? You know, you go out for a short run at 6am in the morning, finished by 8am. Have breakfast, a shower. Go to work. Come home at 5pm. Sit down for dinner at 6pm and look at the clock. You think to yourself, “hmm, so in my 100km race that started at the same time as my run this morning, I’m probably just about finished now”. Eeek! The thought still drives me to despair. Well, on the day, it’s not going to feel that long, I promise.
…look around, think to yourself “wow, I’m here, I’m doing this”
You’ve done the physical preparation in training, so your body is ready. But long distance running is, at the end of the day, as much a mental event as it is a physical one. If you haven’t already, it’s time to start visualising how the day will play out, and work on some mental strategies to get you to the end.
- Break down the event into sections, and focus only on that section at the time. Don’t be thinking of the finishing line, or the next six hours on your feet. Instead, look around, think to yourself “wow, I’m here, I’m doing this”.
- Be aware of what’s coming up. I always like to know what to expect on each section of an event. Usually, that means printing out a little sheet of paper with tips such as how long the leg is, what the surface is like, some landmarks, and if there are hills involved, a little elevation chart.
- Run with someone else. My two most successful events to date (Kep 2014, WTF 2015), I had the pleasure of running the first half of the event with a couple of great blokes. Having company takes your mind off things. You can encourage each other, sometimes push each other, and maybe even form a friendship that will last for years to come.
- There’ll be a point in the race (for me, it’s generally somewhere between 30-45km) where running is no longer fun, and your brain starts trying to convince you to stop. I’ve read that this occurs when your body transitions from running on glycogen to burning fat. Perhaps more simply, this is probably the point where you’re pushing beyond what you’ve ever done before. Trust me when I say that this feeling won’t stay with you ’til the end – you will get over it. So, be prepared, and try to figure out a way that will help get you through the slump. It may be having a special food treat to eat, reading some motivational quotes, or if feeling really down, get out your phone and give a friend or a loved one a call for a few minutes.
On the physical side of things, you’re doing something epic – pushing your body way beyond what it’s ever done before, and that means you’re going to feel things you’ve probably never experienced before.
- It’s going to hurt (sorry). There’s no getting around this. So, accept it and keep moving when the pain comes along.
- Keep up the fluids by drinking to thirst (as opposed to a plan). You can never be 100% sure of what the weather is going to be like, and that will impact the amount of water you need to drink, so having a “plan” can be a bad idea. You should know by now how much water you need on a long run, so be sure to carry at least that much for each section.
- If you’re using something like Perpetuem or Tailwind for your energy, consider carrying some plain water too. This will allow you to drink to thirst separately from meeting your energy needs.
- Keep up the energy intake. There will be times when you get “flavour fatigue” from whatever gel or energy supplement that you’re using. This can result in you consuming less and becoming more and more energy deficient as the race goes on. You need to either ignore the mental signals and just eat it regardless, or prepare yourself with a variety of food options. For me personally, I never get tired of eating fruit. Watermelon, mandarins, bananas are all easy to digest and can be real palate cleansers. Even if you don’t train with these normally, don’t fear eating them at aid stations, I very much doubt that they will lead to stomach issues.
- Ginger beer and coke – you probably don’t consume these normally, but they can be the perfect pick-me-up at aid stations.
- Don’t mess about at aid stations – have a plan, run in, grab what you need, run out. Don’t hang around chatting, sitting, eating at the aid station. Five extra minutes, five aid stations, that means an extra 25min on your finish time. If you need to eat, grab the food and eat it while walking, every step you take is one step closer to the end.
…every step you take is one step closer to the end…
There will likely be a point where you just can’t run any more. Or your feet or knees are hurting. Or you start cramping. This is where the real mental game begins. Unless you’ve got tears streaming down your face, or there is bone showing due to a break, you can keep moving.
- You may have to walk and be then faced with your planned finish time slipping away. You may even start thinking about DNF’ing when that happens. Please, don’t ever pull yourself from a race just ’cause it hurts or it’s taking longer than you’d like. Unless you’re pulled from the event due to missing an aid-station cutoff, or there’s a physical injury that will have a long-term impact if you keep going, keep moving. Even if it’s a walk.
- A DNF is forever, you’ll look back and question yourself for a long time. But you won’t care tomorrow if you finished in 10hrs or 16hrs, the fact that you finished is what matters. I considered pulling out of my Tarawera 100km race earlier this year after a shocking first half, but I’m so glad that I didn’t. My time was way outside my goal, but after 60k, the race got better, and the feeling of accomplishment when I crossed the finishing line was totally worth it!
- When faced with an opportunity to take the easier route (i.e. turn left for 75km finish or right for 100km), take five minutes to really think it through if tempted for the shorter version. That extra 25km will only take a few more hours – what exactly do you plan to do with that time you’ve just gained? Eat more hot dogs at the finishing line? Go back to your hotel and watch TV? How will you feel about the decision tomorrow?
- When the pace slows, try a walk/run strategy – pick a tree up ahead, and run to it. Then another tree and walk, then another tree and run. You’ll get there faster, it will prevent you getting dead legs, and in all likely hood you’ll start to find you can run further and further each time.
- Avoid using pain-killers. There has been a lot written about the dangers of NSAID use in endurance events (such as ibuprofen and asprin). If you’re not familiar with this, please google “ibuprofen ultra running” for more details. Paracetamol also has some potential side effects. I’m not here to preach, at the end of the day, it’s your body. But take the time to educate yourself on the risks, and if you do use either, be sure to stick within the recommended dosage. Personally, I avoid taking NSAIDs three days either side of an event.
Running to a pace? If you’ve set yourself a time goal, or have scheduled times into each aid station at a pace that you know might be a bit optimistic, please re-think those goals now! It’s great to have a time-goal for an event, but get yourself there “naturally” rather than at a forced pace. The last thing you want to do is push hard for 40k, blow up and be forced to walk the next 60km (trust me on this one, I’ve been there … twice!) I’m not saying that having pacing goals are a bad thing, but just be honest with yourself and your own abilities, and don’t run faster on the day that you know you should. Also, consider the first 50km a warm-up in a 100k event – you’re probably not going to negative-split it, so pace the first 50km appropriately!