Lessons learnt from ‘epic’ training run

I like to write down what I’ve learnt from my training runs and races as it hopefully may help others but also is great for me to look back on in the future and make sure I don’t keep repeating the same mistakes!

So what did I learn from running 60miles from 2.50pm on a Sunday afternoon right through the night to 5.55am Monday morning? I realise I’m open to some questions about my sanity but we’ll leave those aside for now!! Here are a few to start with …..

1. My pacing in preparation for the Hardmoors 110
One of the main reasons I wanted to do such a long training run was that I know the Hardmoors 110 mile race is gong to be tough and I wanted to have such a long training run under my belt. I’m not sure I needed it physically as I feel I’m in good shape at the moment. I’ve run over 1,600 miles this year and have completed 3 ultras and had a long run of over 30 miles at least once a month. But I felt I needed it mentally to get a feel of what it’s like to run hour after hour again. I know the whw race was only 3 months ago but I felt I needed to do this.

The other thing I wanted to do was run slower than my whw pace. I’ve dipped under 20hrs for the last two years on the whw and I know what that feels like, especially early on but the Hardmoors is totally new to me and from what I’ll read and heard the key thing will be to run a lot slower especially for the first 50 miles or so. I would love to be able to get to Skelton at 55miles and still feel I can run. So this training run was about trying to run for 60miles and feel as though I could keep going. To do that I will need to run well within myself right through the night.

For once I didn’t run thinking about the time and having set times for each leg. I’d written down a rough plan but that was mainly for arranging to meet Marco at Rowardennan. I did carry and a watch (or 2!) but I didn’t really look at it that much (well not compared to a normal long run).

I tried to concentrate on running at a pace that felt easy and relaxed. I walked all the hills and tried to make sure I didn’t get out of breath. It was really good running with Caroline for the first 18miles as I was able to keep to that steady pace. Thanks again Caroline!

When I was on my own from Beinglas to Rowardennan I was a bit more conscious of what pace I was moving at but it didn’t worry me when I slipped behind my ‘rough’ estimates.

Marco asked me a few times are we on target and I’m not sure he really believed when I said I didn’t really have one! He is so used to me saying we have 32mins to run the next 2.8miles!!

With about 22 miles to go I struggled for a bit (more about that it a minute) but picked up and I was really pleased with how I felt at the end. Yes my legs felt as though they had ran 60miles but I was ready for more and could have carried on.

So as far as my pacing goes it was mission accomplished. If I ran at this pace for the Hardmoors I’d finish in 27hrs 40mins. Now the big question is could I continue for another 50miles at that pace? There’s only one was to find out.

2. Running for 9hrs in the dark
Another big reason for wanting to do this through the night was to see what it like to run for 9hrs in the dark. The most I’ve run is about 3hrs 30mins in preparing for the whw. In the Hardmoors it will be at least 9hrs so I wanted to prepare for that.

On the training run it got dark about 9pm when I still had about 3miles to go to Inversnaid so I was on the bit of the whw route that most feel is the hardest. Plus it was raining! So all in all not the best conditions but I did it! I can’t say it was the most enjoyable hour of my running life but you take one step at a time and eventually Inversnaid Hotel came into view.

The next hour and 40mins into Rowardennan were easier as the track was better. The strange thing about running at night is that you concentrate on a small patch of ground about a yard in front of you. You can’t see anything else and running hour after hour like that is not easy but I found that eventually I settled into it and it became ‘normal’.

So much that I commented to Marco that this feels fine now. I’m glad I have that experience under my belt and so when it’s dark in the Hardmoors I know I get through it and the light will return!

So another mission accomplished.

3. Hammernut nutrition products
Like most ultra runners I’m forever trying to find the solution to what I can eat and drink that will help me keep running. Maybe others have found the answer and not told me!!

Well my latest experience is Hammernut’s Perpetuem and Sustained Energy. Looking at their Nutritional facts here is the comparisons (Perpetuem first)based on 80g serving …

Calories 265 – 343
Fat 2g – 1g
Carbohydrates 60g – 73g
Protein 6g – 10.5g

Plus a few other ingredients!

So fairly similar I suppose. I took 4 servings of the Perpetuem and 1 of the Sustained Energy. For the Perpetuem I used one and a half scoops to a 500m bottle of water. The sustained energy came in a packet so I used one packet to 500m water.

Both tasted exactly the same, ie neutral as they were unflavoured. This to me is an instant hit as I have continually struggled with anything that has a flavour especially after several hours. Plus the fact that you drink it rather than having to chew is another big bonus. Taking this was like drinking water and I had no problems drinking it at all. My stomach didn’t complain though I was farting a bit (sorry Marco!!).

I know it’s hard to work out what contributed to what but I can only say that I ran the whole run without feeling as though I ran out of energy. My lowest point physically was just before Balmaha and I had a perpetuem there and felt the difference. I also drank one at Carbeth Huts and felt the benefit. In the past I’d thought I’ve less than an hour to go I won’t bother trying to eat but this was easy to take and I’m sure made the difference and helped me finish well.

I need to be careful that I don’t go overboard and say this is THE answer but on the evidence of this run I’m cautiously optimistic and Perpetuem will certainly be my main fuel source for the Hardmoors.

The other thing that was interesting was because I was running a bit slower I was able to eat more solid food right until the end. I had 5 energy bars/elevens/muesli bars/fudge plus jelly babies. So that was good. Marco had salted mashed potato and it looked like playdo!! Not sure if I want to try that!

I also took an electrolye tablet every 90mins. I’ve always taken these and never had cramp so I don’t know if that’s the reason or not but I’m not changing a winning formula.

4. Safety & importance of support
When I was on the my at 10pm running through the woods around Inversnaid I did wonder whether this was the safest thing to do! I thought if I fell now and hurt myself when would anyone find me! Mobile reception is non-existant and there was no-one else running or walking at that of time of night.

I did have a safety blanket with me so I could have crawled into that and I know Marco would have come to find me but I did take a risk and I wouldn’t recommend it! It was so much better running with Marco from Rowardennan and if I did anything like this again I wouldn’t do it alone. It’s not worth the risk.

During the day its different because there are so many people on the route and mobile reception is better at other places.

5. Feet care & keeping warm
Over the past two years I’ve not had any blisters but this run was going to push that to the test. My feet were wet for the majority of the 15hrs and very, very wet for a good few hours.

I cover my toes in sudrocrem and then wear a thin pair of ankle socks with a thicker pair on top. I finished the un with just one blister on the little toe of my right foot which is feeling fine a day or so later.

So I would say that my foot care was good and again I’m not changing what works for me!

The other lesson I learnt was the importance of keeping warm. I ran in a short sleeved top right until Balmaha (40miles) and was absolutely soaked. The thing is I didn’t feel too cold and didn’t think I needed to put anything warmer on. But looking back my body was having to work hard at just staying warm. That was when I went through a ‘quiet’ patch and was finding it hard going.

As soon as I took my wet top off and replaced it with a dry top and rain jacket I felt so much better and realised I should have changed an hour or so earlier. So another lesson to tuck away for future use!

6. Going straight to work
The last lesson I learnt was don’t try and go straight to work after running for 15hrs through the night! I got through the day but I was struggling big time! I came home and had a kip for an hour or so and then went to bed at 10.30pm and spelt well. Today I feel fine and back to normal but yesterday was not easy. Even riding my motor bike I felt I was falling asleep!

I’m sure there are lots of other things I could write but that will do!

Finally congratulations to all those who completed the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc over the weekend. As I was running through the night for 15hrs I was thinking about these guys who were running for over 40hrs up and down some very big mountains. Over the weekend I was following the race from the race web site and updating the whw forum.

One day I’d love to do this race and have great respect for all of you. Well done.

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7 Responses to Lessons learnt from ‘epic’ training run

  1. Davie says:

    Jim Robertson tried this run a couple of years ago and really, really struggled to get through the darkness hours. I know he tried to put a comment on when you proposed this but I don't know whether he managed to send any warnings! No doubt he'll have a blether at the night out next week.

  2. Anonymous says:

    John as Davie said I tried to put a comment on but did not know how Davie as told me what to try so here it is a bit late 'sorry' I ran From Beinglas to Dumbarton cutting off W.H.W. trail at Carbeth and had the same conditions as yourself very wet and cold [it was 31st MAY] not one of my better training runs slipping and sliding down the lochside I am away for a wee trip to the western isles will try to have a chat on the 15th anyway WELL DONE job completed JIM R

  3. Lee Maclean says:

    An epic post befits an epic run. And I read it all!! I have the attention span of a nat so thats a major acheivement for me.
    Well done.

  4. Andy Cole says:

    Hi John, just managed to get my computer working on wi-fi (I'm not very literate) so yours is the first blog I've caught up with. I've just had my second experience in three months of being more than fit enough to perform well but messing up my chances by getting the hydration/nutrition all wrong. I'll do a post about it when I've really thought it through, and maybe your constitution is a bit more robust than mine, but in any case my advice for Hardmoors would be to leave your options open, and have enough stuff with your backup team to change your plan as you go if you need to. For example a while ago I tried Perpetuem very successfully for two or three training runs, including a 13 hour one, then in the next race I couldn't face it after about 6 hours. Cheers, Andy.

  5. Brian Mc says:

    Having just run through two long 9 or 10 hour nights on the UTMB my advice for night-time running is to drink a fair amount of coffee and/or coca cola as you go. Works a treat.

  6. Great post, simulating the race conditions is going to help you, mentally and physically, to prepare for what you're going to go through. Hopefully you'll reap the benefits on the day, however Marco eating mashed tatties with no ketchup… yuch it'll never catch on… ;o)

  7. If people are questioning your sanity John I wonder what they think about mine. Running 30 miles in the dark while training for nothing.. It's just not right.
    Richie – My mashed potato's had broon sauce in them. At 3am in the morning and soaking wet they looked like playdo and unfortunately didn't taste much better.


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