I’m running The North Face Ultra 50K this weekend – Oct. 5. (!!!!!) So let’s take a post to talk about long ultra-specific training runs. I integrated two of them around my Perth Marathon training: one before and one after. I planned to write about the first one (a 27-miler in early August), but we left for vacation in London, and I got distracted. So instead, I’ll tell you about the more recent 28-miler (from Sept. 19), and I’ll work in a few nuggets of wisdom/reflections from August’s run. See how this new schedule is already helping me stay on track? After all, Tuesday is Race/Run Recap Day!
Until my 27-miler, I had never done a training run longer than 22 miles, and never run further than ~26.4 miles (what I estimate a marathon actually works out to be for most of us), period. For that first run, I planned for about 25 miles on trails, and I was feeling anxious about the endeavor – so I simply decided not to think about it (except for appropriate fueling and packing) until it was done. And while the run was sweaty, tiring, and mentally taxing (and ended up being 27 miles) – I completed it.
Afterward, I took those 27 miles and kind of held them in my hand, staring at them with amazement and a little bit of confusion, “Am I crazy? Did I just run 27 miles through McRitchie Reservoir? On a regular old Friday morning? Did I seriously just do that?!?!”
Of course, the answer was YES – Yes, I ran 27 miles. Yes, I did it by myself. Yes, I ran a marathon distance between my first and second breakfasts. Yes, I still got dressed, did my work, and even went out for dinner and a show with my family that evening. Yes, I hope my face didn’t have a smug “I ran 27 miles this morning, what did you do?” kind of look on it the whole time.
But fast forward to September, when I set out for my second super-long training run (aiming for 26-28 miles). This time, I was less anxious: I’d done this before. I knew it would take awhile, and be really sweaty and not always easy, but I could do it. My legs felt recovered from the marathon, I had done a 22-mile run the previous week, and I was feeling strong. During my August run, I had also made the subtle but important decision to change how I viewed long, ultra-training trail runs. They actually weren’t “runs” at all – rather, they were “adventures”. My goals for these long trail adventures:
1. Don’t fall.
2. Don’t worry about pace.
3. Walk the hills.
4. Practice good hydration and fueling.
5. Stay out for 4-6 hours.
It was that last point, the 4-6 hours, that was prompting such long training runs. Yes, 26-28 miles is probably a bit long for a training run for a 50K (31 miles). Slightly shorter back-to-back runs would accomplish similar levels of fatigue, and would likely be easier on my legs. I’m not suggesting that anyone else follow my approach. But for me, personally, I wanted the confidence of having practiced hydrating and salting for a 5+ hour adventure. The heat out here is no joke, and on race day, I need to be confident that I can plan, manage, and adjust my fluid and electrolyte intake, depending on the conditions and how I feel – not just for the first 2-3 hours, but for the entire 5+ hours of the race. And since my legs seemed to recover quite quickly from these efforts, they made sense for me.
So I stepped outside waaaay early on Sept. 19. KMN was with me, headed out for his own tempo workout. We kicked off our anniversary by running in opposite directions. [Thankfully, our marriage is stronger than the symbolism here.] I wasn’t in the mood to do 4 loops of McRitchie (which is what I did in August), so instead I planned to incorporate part of a route I ran back in February with the Trail Running Singapore group.
[Note: There are trails in Singapore, but most are within a few kilometers of a major road that is serviced by a bus route. Thus, I can go out for a long run, make up the route as I go, and hop a bus home when I hit my target distance. The most important thing to plan are water stops (fountains, kopis, or convenience stores). The logistics of long-run planning are actually super easy out here. Also, I get cell service just about everywhere, even out on most of the trails.]
Although I didn’t want to run four loops of McRitchie, I still kicked off the morning with one. There is one main loop, but including my run to the park and a few side detours, I extended up to about 9 miles.
Then, I turned around a re-ran half the loop again – with a quick stop at this lovely thing:
I decided to add some distance with a quick spin through the Treetop Walk (a 250 meter long suspension bridge, rising 20-25 meters above the forest floor) and its associated trails. But I had forgotten how many stairs there were on the way out, and ended up doing more walking than running. The breeze up on the walk was fabulous, though (and probably the real reason I wanted to go!).
It’s too boring to note every bit of food and beverage that passes my lips during this kind of run, but on average I take 1 electrolyte-only source (usually a salt tab, occasionally Nuun) and one sugar+electrolyte source (Sports Beans or Sports drink) every hour. I also drink my pack dry (1.5 liters) every 90 minutes, and I chug water at any fountains I pass. In addition to my hydration pack, I carry a small 8 oz bottle (stolen from my no-longer-used Fuel Belt). I use this little bottle to mix up concentrated Nuun and to help refill my pack at poorly configured water fountains.
After my high-flying foray to the Treetop Walk, Garmie reported I was just under 14 miles. At that point, another trail branched off the main loop. I was 4 miles from home, so decided to run 4-5 miles OUT on the “branch off” trail, then run back, then run home – which would put me in the ~26-28 mile range. So I veered off onto the Rifle Range Link, then to Rifle Range Road. I’ll admit – a mile of road was a nice break from the trail!
I turned back onto the trails and retraced the route we ran much earlier this year out to Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. Bukit, pronounced like “book-it”, is the Malay word for “hill” – so anywhere there’s a hill in Singapore, the neighborhood/area is called “Bukit _____”: Bukit Brown, Bukit Batok, Bukit Timah, etc.
Bukit Timah is actually the highest point in Singapore (163 meters, don’t laugh), and there is a wide, paved path to the top, along with some short hiking trails. The spot is quite busy on the weekends, but this was mid-morning on a weekday, so things were pretty quiet. Standing at the Visitor’s Center at the bottom, with 17+ miles on my Garmin, I made a slightly crazy decision: I was going to hike/run to the top. I had never made the summit, and although I didn’t think the Ultra would be crazy enough to send us up Bukit Timah, I wanted to check out the terrain, just in case. Plus, I’d never done it before, and this was an adventure, after all. The longest trail to the top is just over 1 mile long, hiking from ~80-100 meters above sea level up to 160 meters (the long trail had some extra ups and downs in it, though, just for fun!).
So, I set off. The footing was a no-brainer (paved), but the first part was quite steep. I took a photo, but it looks flat, so I’m not showing you. 🙂 I fast-hiked the steep parts, then slow-ran the less steep parts. The trail I chose turned off-road briefly, to descend, then ascend, about 40-50 meters of trail stairs. I actually appreciated the variety, and in about 20 minutes, I was at the top. There’s actually not much of a view, but there is a rock!
I also spotted a monitor lizard hiding in some leaves. Sometimes, these buggers pop out on the trails. They’re harmless, and run away quickly, but are pretty sizable and can give you quite a surprise. Just ask my friend Deb, who encountered one on a solo run when she was visiting a few weeks ago. 😉
Having “conquered” Bukit Timah (OK, I’ll admit, even I’m laughing at the measley elevation Singapore offers), I headed back down to the Visitors Center, refilled my pack, and set off for home…but home was still a good 8 miles away. Usually, once I make the turn to “head home”, I start to feel like the end is in sight. But on this day, the end still felt really far away, even as my watch clicked to 20 miles, 21 miles…
Physically, I was doing OK – legs were tired, but the varied terrain of Bukit Timah seemed to perk them up a bit. My nutrition and hydration status was good, and although I was feeling tired, I had no specific complaints. But my brain was pretty much fried. I just wanted to be DONE.
I tried out some favorite mental tricks: Bribery? Not buying it. Envision the finish? Depressingly far away. Why am I doing this? This is RIDICULOUS! I broke out my iPod, with a brand new audiobook loaded on, just for this very circumstance. But somehow, I’d accidentally loaded a book that I’d already listened to, and suddenly, the narrator’s voice grated on every nerve I could muster. Finally, I hit on it: the tried and true method of chunking. I chunked my way back out to Rifle Range Road, and back onto the trail in McRitchie.
At this point, my chunks turned to miles: Run 1 mile, walk 0.1 miles, repeat. These were slow, sloggy, hot, somewhat sad miles. When a gentleman running in the other direction passed me (I was at about mile 25) and said, “Geez, it’s hot out today!” as he zipped by, I sort of wanted to punch him. Dude, you have NO idea. Or maybe he did. What do I know?
Three run/walk repeats later, and I was back to the road, just one mile from home. Normally just want to run to be done, but still…the urge to walk was very strong. As I fought it with each step, I tried to channel the experience: “I’m going to feel this way during the Ultra. I’m going to want to walk. I’m going to want to stop. I might want to cry. But I will keep moving forward.” As I am often telling my clients: “Your training is for your body, AND for your head!” Well, this run certainly worked out my head muscles…
Finally…5 hours, 20-something minutes later…I was home. My husband (already at work) had programmed the air conditioner in the study to turn on a bit before my anticipated arrival. He chilled some water for me, and left me a note reminding me to hydrate (watermelon & Aquarius sports drink in the fridge!). After a few minutes in the air con, some cold beverages, and a little stretching…I felt surprisingly GOOD.
The greatest casualty of the run was a callous on my right big toe, which got a blister underneath and ultimately had to be cut off (the callous, not the toe). This is normal for me, so no biggie. [Also, we’ll be talking about feet and blisters a lot in some upcoming Coach’s Corner posts, so stay tuned.] There wasn’t even too much chafe-induced post-run squealing in the shower. And I was awake enough to bang out some work, write a blog post that some people actually found funny, and enjoy anniversary dinner with my husband (don’t hate on the recycled photo):
Overall, I’d call the run a major success. I accomplished all my goals. I pushed through some tough spots. Part of me wishes I hadn’t experienced such mental disintegration at the end of the run (motivation wise – all my faculties were still perfectly intact), but part of me is glad for it. Brains need training too, and there’s no way that this run made me less prepared for the North Face race. So…come on, Saturday – bring it on!!!
[Even though a race preview doesn’t fit into the New Blogging Schedule, I’ll be posting one, so keep your eye out for one in the next day or two.]
I know a few of you have favorite Port-o-Potties – but does anyone else have a favorite water fountain?
As a runner, what limits YOU more: Your brain, or your body?