I am writing this Blog post really for myself – it’s a written reminder for the next time I decide to take on another similar challenge. If it serves to help others then that’s an added bonus!
Nearly 2 weeks ago I ran/walked/hobbled through 165 km for the first time and it took me 32 hours and 43 minutes. Did I stop to sleep? NO! In fact, when I finished I had gone through 2 nights with no sleep. I never sleep well before any race. I expected this to happen again, but had hoped to get at least a couple of hours of sleep. However, the early start of the race (4 am) meant that I needed to wake up at 2.30 am to get ready, and there was no chance for my bundle of nerves to settle down before then. I didn’t sleep at all!
My memory is still fresh from the race so things that went well or didn’t go well are still front of mind for me. It’s rare to have a perfect race day and especially rare to have one over such a long distance because so many factors are at play, and with poor judgment and choices, mixed with pure exhaustion, it’s most likely that chasing a ‘perfect’ 100 mile day is near to impossible.
Here are some of my thoughts on running a hundred miles…
1. Never try anything new.
Geez, how often have I heard this and I still do it? I mistakenly used some Hypafix (Fixomull) tape over areas on my big toes to prevent blistering. This was a good idea BUT I made the mistake of anchoring the tape OVER the tip of my toes (have never done this before) and it proved to cost me 2 very sore and bruised toenails and slowed me to a stop while I was trying to figure out what was making my toes scrunch up so bad.
Was it my socks? I stopped to take my shoes off and pulled my socks away from the toes a few times but the sensation returned. It took me quite a while to work out that it was the taping. This cost me 30 mins or so in time and some very painful toes as a result.
2. Make distance and time go faster by focusing on smaller goals.
Remember way back when you started running? You may have gotten through your 1st hard run by concentrating on getting to the next power pole, tree or street corner. The same strategy could be used for running 100 miles. It worked well for me to only focus on getting to the next aid station. For the Tarawera Miler there were 16 aid stations at roughly every 10 – 15 km. My mind coped really well with this distance and the thought that I was actually running 165 km didn’t enter my mind at all.
3. Drop bag essentials – socks
Over the course of an ultra marathon there are stops/bases where runners can rest and eat/drink if needed. At these stops, runners can leave drop bags, with their own equipment and food/drink if needed.
My advice is to have different types of socks in EACH drop bag. This saved my toe dramas. I was prepared for whatever was thrown at me and knew that my feet would play up at some stage. So I had a pair of Injinji socks, as well as normal socks, in each drop bag. This allowed me to change into them if my socks were wet or soaking from sweat. When my toes were sore from the taping mistake, as soon as I got to an aid station I took the tape off and put on a fresh pair of Injinji socks. The relief was immediate.
4. Drop bag essentials – sanitary pads/tampons
Ladies, you gotta be prepared for anything and everything right? The comfort of knowing that down under is taken care of is sooo good! Yes, my cycle started on race day and geez it was good to know I had everything there ready to go. Even if I was lucky and my race day was all high and dry I think having these items in the drop bags would be good as a backup for other female athletes who may have forgotten to bring theirs. You’ll become their Number One fan and they’ll thank you the whole way 🙂
5. Tape your feet as if you’ve had a sprained ankle
I know from hindsight how prone I was to ankle sprains when I fatigue. I made sure to tape my feet up as if I’ve had a sprain. I used kinesiology tape first because it sticks really well and it contours the foot much better than rigid tape. Then I applied rigid tape over the top to add the support needed for my ankles. This taping saved me on 2 occasions when I rolled my ankle going down some steep steps in the dark. If not for the taping I would have gone over further and done some major damage to the ligaments. It saved me from a DNF as I think the pain from a higher grade sprain would have stopped me from continuing for another 160 km. Here is a video I did previously showing how to tape a sprained ankle.
6. Drop bag essentials – spare top, undies, pants and bra
It was a relief to have those items in the drop bags as I sweat out so much in my torso. I felt refreshed when I had dry clothes to wear. Anything to help keep you feeling good is important to have. Not to mention the improvement in the odour department will help you breathe a little better and you’ll enjoy your own company so much more!
7. Have a printed list of the items you have in your drop bags stapled to your drop bag
I know how my brain works when I’m exhausted…it simply doesn’t. For this reason I wrote down every single item I placed in each drop bag and stapled the sheet to each bag. It was great to know that when I got to my drop bag I simply looked at the list as a prompt to alert me to what was in the bag and what I needed to do. For the Tarawera 100 Miler I had SIX drop bags and boy I wouldn’t have had the brain capacity to know what was in them by the time I got to the 4th one. Really glad I had the list printed.
8. Carry a laminated chart with your ETA, distance between aid stations, cut-off times and details of aid stations on it (optional – permanent marker)
I love ticking off things on my to-do list. It makes me feel good, my heart skips a beat and I look forward to ticking the next thing off. Every time I arrived at an aid station I would take out my very shrunken and sweat soaked laminated list to check the ETA that I had predicted. Then I would cross it off! Doing this allowed me to know exactly how ahead or behind I was so I could tell my pacer friend, who I linked up with at an aid station in the latter part of the race. If you love ticking off a to-do list then this is a must do.
9. Do a scan of your body often and repeat again about 200 m from the aid stations
I did this to check in on how I felt from top to bottom. Did I need more water? Is it time to take another electrolyte capsule? Have I got enough fuel (Tailwind) in my hydration pack? Do I need to pick up more sandwiches? Do I need to go to the toilet? How are my feet? Do I need a change of socks? Are there any hotspots to address? Once I figured out what I needed to do at the aid stations I repeated that to myself a few times, counted it and then repeated it again in my head. It’s not surprising how the mind stops working properly when the body is under immense stress. I did this so that I didn’t waste any time at the aid stations as I knew exactly what I needed to do when I got there. No mucking around!
10. Save your legs use your poles early and often
I started using poles in previous events and know that they were crucial to reducing my legs from fatiguing early. I decided to purchase a quiver to attach to my hydration pack. There were other ways to attach the poles to the pack but I wanted something quick and easy so that I will use them often. If it was troublesome to take out and put away then I would likely not use the poles as often as I did. The quiver solved that problem. I pulled out the poles at every part I thought was a hill and at the latter stage of the race I used the poles when going downhill as I had major ITB pain. A few runners I had a chat with early in the race had wished they brought poles with them from the start.
11. Tape your hand up if you’re using poles
I used my poles on a 5 hour training run and realised a particular section on my hand was red and sore afterwards. This was a huge win to know this in advance so the night before the race I taped that same area up with some kinesiology tape. I am really pleased to say that there were no blisters or pain on my hands from my rampant use of the poles for the entire 32 hours.
12. Have a pacer
I must be honest, my mind was accepting of the fact that I wasn’t going to see anyone I knew along the course and I had planned to be totally self sufficient and not have support crew to help me at any of the aid stations. Lucky for me though, my running buddy who was meant to do the miler with me had decided to pull out due to injury and she offered to pace me for the last 44 km of the race. I felt very honored that she would give up a night’s sleep just to be there to help me out so of course I didn’t refuse her kind offer.
It was a godsend to have her there!
Through the 120 km before meeting her I hardly talked, only the occasional grunts and chatter at the aid stations but most runners were in their own headspace when I passed them or vice versa. It was very uplifting to have a friend meet you at the 120 km mark, in the middle of the night. We chatted, laughed, took photos and my mental state was in better shape because she was there attending to my needs right to the finish. So if someone offers to pace you, please take up the offer.
13. Have contact lenses? Wear them!
I am short sighted but I’m not that bad, I can run without glasses or contact lenses on, just don’t ask me to identify someone across the road! I chose to wear my contact lenses for this race, not knowing if they will become dry and irritate my eyes towards the end or not. I’m happy to say they were no problems at all. I carried a small drop bottle of Dry Eyes just in case the contact lenses played up but surprisingly they didn’t. Being able to see the beautiful trails you’re running on was so wonderful. As well as that, moving at night time with 20/20 vision is very important. My contact lenses allowed me to tackle the technical sections with no trips or falls. Yay to good eyesight!!
14. Drop bag essentials – at the finish have thongs to wear and some fresh clothes to change into
I listened to the advice given out by the Race Directors and had a drop bag at the finish line. My bag had a pair of thongs.
Boy, I was glad to take my shoes off and have nothing around my feet when I finished. Depending on the time you think you’ll be finishing, others had a change of clothes to change into to prevent getting cold when they finished. I think a drop bag at the finish line is a great idea! Tarawera organisers were so good to the athletes as they had a wide assortment of food on display for us. I didn’t need to have any food in my drop bag at this point.
15. Topic of taboo – drugs. Have drugs, use them but be super careful.
I was hesitant to write this one but thought it was rather important that I table what I did. My health and maintaining normal function of my body was front of mind for me at all times. I knew from the start that pain was inevitable. I also knew that there were strict regulations with regards to drug use during the race. I intended to take with me a few paracetamol tablets as well as some anti-inflammatories. I checked to see if they were prohibited drugs for the race prior and they weren’t. So off I ran with them. The plan was ONLY to take them if my pain was roughly 7/10. It was when I got to about 102 km that I decided to take the paracetamol tablets. It worked well and allowed me to move better, all the time knowing that the drugs will wear off soon. In the latter stages I took some anti-inflammatories with a lot of food at the aid station because my right knee was giving me so much grief. I was moving at snail pace downhill where normally they were sections that I enjoy running the most. I’m glad I took them but all the time I was assessing vital signs from my body as to whether it was safe or not.
Running any distance is hard and requires so much effort and time in training and planning for the big day. Knowing how you work and how your mind works really helps. But in saying that, having a mindset to adapt to having any curve ball thrown at you I think is crucial to the success of your race. My mantra and reminder when things got tough was:
“You’ve been through worse. This is OKAY. J.U.S.T K.E.E.P M.O.V.I.N.G!”
I would then give myself a big smile and continue to put one foot in front of the other.
In some ways, this is a good approach to have in life as well!
PS. Would love to read your thoughts on this so feel free to leave a comment below. Whether your goal is 30 km or 165 km it’s something to celebrate. If you need one on one help, don’t hesitate to reach out or book online to see me in person as I’d love to help you prepare for your big day.