After a slight hiatus, I’m back. I’m sure you’ve all missed me and my barely disguised French xenophobia. “So why are you back?” I hear you cry. Well, I thought I’d blog about the next six months as I’ve decided after a lot of deliberation to run an ultra marathon. In March I attempt the Paris EcoTrail, a 50 mile run that finishes at the Eiffel Tower and has a 13 hour time limit and around 1500m of elevation. I’m also running the Le Mans marathon in October for the second time, though this is now something of a training run rather than a major event. Yes, life for the next six months is all about preparing my ageing body for the ultra.
What prompted me to sign up for an ultra? Well, a variety of things. Mainly it’s curiosity. I’m not really a hardcore athlete. I’m sort of a bloke. Now blokes can run marathons. Most people can run marathons without a huge amount of training. Hell, you might not run it very fast, but you’ll still finish it. But a time limited 80k is a whole different proposition. There’s no sneakily walking for half the distance here – to finish in that sort of time you’ll need to be running for a vast chunk of it. It’s also a very, very long way. Spending 4 hours or so running a marathon isn’t that long in the scheme of things. Double or triple it and you’re into a whole new world of mental and physical mayhem. The question to myself was – “can a normal sort of bloke accomplish this”? The answer will come in March. I’m not that afraid of failure. Even the best ultra runners occasionally DNF. I might be ill on the day or carrying an injury, who knows? But I’ll have a shot at it.
Ultras are also slightly different disciplines in terms of equipment – you have to run with a pack for a start, which is murder on the back and rather sweaty. If you’re running for hours and hours and hours then food and fluids also become an issue. I don’t normally drink or eat anything when I run long distances (there’s a lot of hardcore running discussion about this, some people like to sip water every few minutes and consume energy gels like they’re going out of fashion, others don’t bother – I’m in the latter category) but realistically I’ll need to come up with a strategy to keep me moving, hydrated and alive over the extended distance. This, along with the fact that a vast majority of the EcoTrail 80k is hilly trails also attracted me to the event. I hate hills. I hate trail running. I hate eating or drinking when I run. Basically the three taken together mean that the event is so utterly out of my comfort zone it should be a challenge like no other.
When I say I hate hills I really, really do. I’m not really built for hills. I’m tall, heavy and have chronic problems with my right leg that flare up when I’m on steep ascents. But it’s a weakness I’m going to have to iron out, along with my aversion to trail running. I LOVE tarmac. Always have, be it on foot or on bike. Running for me has always been about the purity of speed vs distance. Avoiding potholes, tree roots and dead badgers has never appealed to me. But again, it’s a weakness I’m going to have to train out. Actually finding hilly trail courses to train on is quite difficult though – France is a big country but it’s not quite the latticework of public footpaths the UK is. Most promising looking paths are usually roped off with warning signs in CAPITAL LETTERS telling you you risk getting shot if even think about running along them. Thankfully, since I’ve joined a local running club they’ve helped me discover all sorts of new routes I never knew existed, so I think I can get by.
Another reason for doing this is the efforts of Ross Hendry (rosshendry.com), a fellow runner, a fellow geek, a Janathoner and now an ultra runner after completing the Pyranees 80k in August. Now, my 80k compared to Ross’ is like comparing a wordsearch to the Times Crossword – the Pyranees ultra has 3 times the elevation and probably far worse terrain to navigate – but they are a similar principal. Ross’ success at finishing the ultra was inspirational. I don’t think before Ross commenced the hard 8 months of training he did for the event we were that far apart in ability and fitness, so it’s a case of, if he can do it, maybe so can I.
So, this blog is going to outline the trials and tribulations of preparing for this event. I’ll probably blog at least once a week, mainly for my own benefit so I can look back when I’m 90 and sitting in a nursing home and think back fondly to the time when my body did what I asked it to, but you (dear reader) might find it vaguely interesting too. I might even try to be funny occasionally.
You never know your luck!
First Week Summary – Saturday 1st to Friday the 7th
So, the ultra training begins in earnest. Well, semi-earnest. Saturday I kicked off with an 18k run with elevation and a trail section. It’s a new route, and with a few tweaks I think I can extend it to 25km with 6 or 7km of trails and at least two horrible hills which would be ideal for training runs. It was a good run, fairly quick considering the terrain and not particularly difficult. The rest of the week was a mixed bag, a new PB of 20.48 for the 5km (which isn’t really, as it was sprint training), a so-so 10kish run at the local club, a ditched 5km run (cramps) another so-so 14k run and another reasonable 5k. Mixed in a bit of cycling (outside and static) too, though I’m not particularly religious about recording that via the GPS.
The start of the week was certainly better than the end, as I’ve been getting more and more gyp from my right thigh and knee – I’ve no idea quite what the injury is; if it’s one injury or two; if it’s joint or muscle related etc etc…. but I get very deep shooting pain between my knee and my right arse cheek. It’s a chronic injury I thought I was finally shifting, but it was back with a vengeance. It’s not enough to stop running, but it makes hill climbs and running at any sort of speed quite painful. It does seem to get significantly less painful if I stop now and again and stretch, so hopefully it’s nothing too serious. The weather has been very hot too, which hasn’t helped. Last year I trained a lot in heat and I found my tolerance for it increased, but this year I’ve run more at night and its fair to say I’ve been performing badly in high temperatures.
So a mixed bag. Next event I should be worried about is clearly the marathon, so I need to concentrate on that – but I need to transform the distances I’m doing by the end of the year if I’m going to run 80k in March. To that end I’ve bought a cross trainer/velo eliptique to supplement the actual running I’m doing. I’ve asked a few runners what their opinion of cross trainers is, and the response has been mixed, but I guess it’s better than nothing. It’s also helpful in case of an injury (it’s very low impact) or treacherous weather conditions. I was dithering about it, but the local supermarket was doing a fitness machine “promo” and it was pretty cheap. It’s magnetic, not belt resistance, but even so it’ll probably only last a few months, but then that’s all I need it to do.