Final week before an ultra
02 March 2011

In the final week before the Moonlight Challenge 2011 I decided to post an update about each day on Facebook. The posts below are taken from that content.

13 February at 16:55 via TweetDeck
It’s the Moonlight Challenge on Saturday and for the first time I thought I’d bore everyone with the final week of preparation before an ultra. Stay tuned.

13 February at 16:55 via TweetDeck
First question is, how has training gone? Well to be honest I haven’t trained specifically for the Moonlight Challenge. My last event was the Longmynd Hike back in October and that was brutal in the extreme. 14 hours on my feet and I felt utterly broken afterwards. I vowed never to suffer through an event in that manner again. I exited that race knowing that I have a long list of issues that I need to address.

So I’m going through a long period of rebuilding, strength work and getting more barefoot in and running races has become rather secondary for now. I plan to spend a couple of years in this mode and get my running technique totally dialled in. So I’m treating this race as a training run which I’m planning on utterly enjoying. I’ve got a few mates also doing it and it’ll be great to catch up with them.

In spite of not having done any really long runs since the last event back in October I’m still confident that 32.75 miles is not going to be too taxing. My weekly training is always intense and the mileage fairly high. For instance last week I ran 9 times in 6 days for a total of almost 10 hours of running, which is roughly about 100km of running. In ultra running terms I don’t consider this alot but compared to most people it’s high. Considering that I’m supposed to be tapering for an event (which is traditionally 2-3 weeks before but I usually cut that back to a week) it was a busy week.

So, in short the distance doesn’t worry me at all. As mentioned elsewhere this will be the 3rd time I’ve run this event and I know exactly what to expect.

Next instalment I’ll detail what the plan for the week is, as mentioned I’ll be tapering so the running will be consistent but low. More important this week is to prepare for the race rather than blatting out high mileage.

14 February at 21:30
So what is the plan for the week? Well, as mentioned my taper is kind of short but as such it needs to be well structured to get the desired affect. That affect is to allow me to start the race on Saturday feeling refreshed, not tired, not over-trained and most important of all, confident.

Difficult to underestimate that last one. It seems like how you feel should be utterly secondary to what you can physically do but that’s not the case. One week before a race there’s little you can physically do to improve your chances in the race. Do more physically in the time shortly before a race and you’ll only harm your chances in the race.

Thus this week is filled with very little actual running. I’ll probably still run every day, in fact on Tuesday and Wednesday I’ll probably run twice but the effort will be low and the mileage low. Each run is designed to build confidence and a feeling of well-being. For instance on Wednesday I’m looking forward to a lunchtime run with Meera, it certainly wont be fast but it will be barefoot and it’ll feel just great.

The timetable for the week therefore is:
+ Monday - 40 min easy pace + Tuesday - 40 mins barefoot with backback, 1 hour speed work at lunchtime with Citigroup running club + Wednesday - 35 mins race pace with backback, 40 mins barefoot with Meera at lunchtime + Thursday - 40 mins easy pace + Friday - Nada, zippo, zarro, nuffin. Might even have lunch out. + Saturday - RACE

In addition to this as I fancy it I’ll do some resistance work on abs and upper body. As a further little tickle I’ll continue with the stair climbing most days which sees me climb up 50 flights of steps to the top of Citigroup tower at Canary Wharf. More weeks I do this religiously but this week I’ll only do it if I fancy it.

15 February at 08:28 via TweetDeck
Cutting out the run this lunchtime. Ran an hour barefoot this morning which is longer than expected. I think running club will leave me far too tired.

15 February at 20:58
Turns out that Citigroup running club today did a session at lunchtime that involved carrying someone around on your back. So glad i didn’t go along.

15 February at 21:28
Tonight it’s all about equipment and nutrition. I’ll cover that in reverse order. Basically there are two aspects to nutrition, what to eat in the week leading up to the race and what to each during.

In short this week I will mainly be eating tons and tons of food. No particular plan to what that food is, just got to make sure that I max out and try a store some away. Goal is to fully replenish the glycogen stored on the muscles. Important thing is when to stop eating so much. That day is Friday and then I’ll reduce the quantity and make sure that the majority of what I eat is carbohydrates. On Saturday I wont eat much at all really. Porridge for breakfast and a couple of bagels for lunch. It sounds crude but the goal on Saturday is to make sure that all that food from the week has passed through and you’ve got rid of it.

Food during the race has changed a lot over the years for me. I used to eat loads of gels, carb bars, sports drinks, etc, but these days I have a different goal. I’ve found that I’m better off with proper food when I can. I do have a couple of gels and a carb bar standing by for emergencies because they are really good at simply getting calories in. The main source of nutrition during the race will be hot soup, ham sandwiches and some sweets.

The reason for not using the mainstream running food is that my internals simply don’t appreciate it. My guts totally shut down during a race if I’m not careful and starting it up again is a somewhat smelly process. Let me put it this way, after a race if I’ve been eating gels for 10 hours you don’t want to me around me when I fart. It’s far from pleasant. By switching to proper food I try to keep my internals working as nature intended.

Equipment is pretty simple. If you make things complicated they go wrong so I make things as simple as possible. I have a choice of shoes which I will decide on when I get there. What I wear will depend on the weather. I always try and have on as little as possible though as there’s nothing worse than over-heating. Most important item of kit will be my headtorch because the race starts at 6pm and we run into the night.

That’s it for now. Next I’ll rattle on about hydration and the plan for the race.

16 February at 21:39
Tonights installment is all about hydration and race planning.

Hydration is the art of drinking enough to be able to keep running without drinking too much that you kill yourself. In fact there’s a lot of things that can go wrong. Drink sugary drinks and you wont get maximum uptake of liquid because your stomach is digesting food. Drink too much plain water and wash your body salts away and get hyponatremia and your brain swells and you die. Drink too little plain water and your blood thickens to the point where your hearts pumps so fast but can’t move blood around enough. In that situation you can’t run at all.

Other factors are that as muscles get damaged during extreme long runs your liver fills up with those waste products. You have to wash them away by drinking lots and lots of water otherwise you get renal failure. So in short you have to know what you’re doing because it’s a complex system. Drink too little and you get problems, drink too much and you get different problems.

The solution is to drink electrolytes with the water. I use a product called Nuun which is fabulous. It’s very much like Dioralyte which the doctors prescribes when you have the shits. In fact many ultra runners use Dioralyte. In the race I did last summer I drank 16 litres of water and Nuun in 13 hours. Had that been plain water I would have ended up in hospital.

On Saturday I will drink about 600ml of Nuun every hour and that it about what I need to keep me going. If the run had been taking place in the day I’d drink more and on a hot day even more. There are water stations all round the course so there’s no need for me to carry more than one 600ml handheld bottle. I’ll keep the Nuun tablets on me and just drop one into the bottle each time I refill it.

Final topic for tonight is the race plan. Well, honestly, I don’t really have one. The race is five laps of the same course and I shall simply try to cruise through each of them at about the same place. Throughout I’ll be chatting to mates so I wont be trying to win or anything daft like that. On the final lap though I’m going to do something daft. I’ll either strip off and run it with just shorts on, or if I’m feeling really stupid I’ll run the last lap barefoot. Hell, I may even do both. :)

That it for tonight. Tomorrow evening I’ll witter on about why anyone would even want to run so far. What is wrong with just running a marathon? Why on earth would anyone enjoy running that far…

17 February at 21:51
Just a short one tonight because I’m off to bed soon. So why would anyone want to run more than 26.2 miles? For me the question is, why set a limit at 26.2 miles? There’s nothing particularly magical about that distance.

I’ve run 30 mile races and been really disappointed to be finishing because I wanted to keep going. I’ve run 5k races which I was more than happy to get over with, get in the pub and have a beer. For me the goal is enjoyment. I love running off-road and covering huge distances. The most enjoyable run I’ve done so far also happens to be the longest, last summer I ran 100km on a beautiful summers day, with some excellent friends supporting me and loved every single second of it. There was pain, I had to explore just how far I’m willing to push myself but the end result was a hugely rewarding experience. Honestly, I’d recommend to anyone to do it so that they can experience what I did. It was genuinely life-changing.

So why can’t I get the same feeling for shorter races? In short it’s because of the amount of pain you have to go through to get there. For some people the marathon will be the ultimate and they will feel exactly the same as I do after over twice the distance. That’s just a reflection of the amount of training I do and takes nothing away from their achievement. In years gone by I’ve run marathons and had that feeling but when you’ve done quite a few of them it takes the edge of it. When you run marathons in training in the evening you find it difficult to feel that longer distances are more rewarding.

Righty, I’m off to bed. Carb loading is going well, tomorrow is all about getting myself fully hydrated and topped up with electrolytes. Night night all.

18 February at 21:36
Just a very short one tonight. Drank a load of electrolyte today and ate plenty. Just spent some time sorting out my gear for tomorrow and iced the soles of my feet. Bedtime soon. Didn’t run at all and my legs feel really bouncy and ready to go.

19 February at 13:28 via TweetDeck
Setting off in 30 mins. Stuff is almost packed.

19 February at 15:01 via Android
When is the rain going to stop?

19 February at 16:46 via TweetDeck
Well it’s wet here in Kent. Not very warm but still spirits are high. Time to get changed.

20 February at 00:14 via TweetDeck
Finished in a little under 5 hours 20 mins. Ran the marathon in under 4 hours on a filthy muddy course. Full update tomorrow.