Friday, 23 May 2014



North Face 100 here I come

Two weeks until my first 100km run. The North Face 100. It seems a bit surreal that at the start of 2011 I didn't even know such things existed. I wasn't even running. But from the moment I read the term “ultrarunning” I must admit that, for whatever reason, a little naggy voice began whispering in my head.

So last Saturday morning, I was lying in a warm snuggy bed, listening to the sound of rain falling. I guess running can make you a little strange, because the falling rain, and the freezing cold snap that has arrived during the night were exactly what I was hoping for. I wanted the chance to practice running in the cold and wet with a full pack with a jacket on. Instead of staying in my warm snuggy bed with a warm snuggy wife. Very strange indeed.

That hasn't been the only strange thing about training for a 100km event. The entire process has been a huge learning curve. Some aspects were easy to predict, whilst some have been unexpected. From talking to other crazy running folk, and from reading stuff written by other crazy running folk, some things I was ready for; but definitely not everything. So what went to plan ? and which things were unexpected and more challenging than expected ?

Hunger. O lordy. At times I felt like all I did was eat. Having always been active, and doing a physically challenging job, I was used to having a healthy appetite, but at times skipped meals and ate more later. During the training, though, I really had to think carefully about eating more regularly. Heading out for a long run when you haven't been eating well is a recipe for disaster. Which I discovered the hard way. Many times. Until I finally got the message. It took a while. I can be slow.

Let me say too, that when I hear people say “you run so much - you can eat whatever you like” - not true. In my case, eat crap, run crap. I usually tend to avoid refined carbs (lollies, bread, white flour, cakes, white sugar, soft drinks) as much as possible. At times I indulged a little (a few chocolates have died along the way), but not with great results. No free pass in this area. Except with salty foods. I never add salt to food or cooking, but after long runs I developed the most immense salt cravings. I have eaten a lot of miso, soy sauce, sea salt, chicken noodle soup of late (although I must add that adding TAILWIND to my training made a big difference - extra salty which I loved). All the training has meant I have actually had to be extra careful about my diet. A lot of thinking about what I needed to eat – especially as the training weeks got heavier. Thank goodness for the lovely wife Cait. “Darling Rob, can I buy a Thermomix ?” “Of course you can lovely Cait ! That way you can produce copious amounts of healthy vegetarian delights for me to chow down”.

Sleep. If you enjoy late nights and a good sleep in, do not sign up for a 100km event. After a few times waking at 4.30am to drive to Katoomba to run some stupid distance, you soon discover that your wife is shaking you awake on the couch at 8.30pm because you are snoring the house down and it is clearly time for bed.

Tiredness also raised its ugly weary head. A very deep tiredness. Some weeks I just tossed training out the window. Nothing but finishing work, eating, going to bed early to let the body play catch up.

Chafing.  Running a long way can lead to chafing.  Good thing there are some amazing products out there to stop it occurring.  However, it can be easy to miss a spot.  And that spot can become so very painful. So incredibly painful.

Time management possibly has possibly been the hardest part. I am a home body. I love being at home. I love hanging out with the wife and kids, reading, gardening, playing guitar, listening to music, drinking a nice red. However, despite my best intentions, things got stretched a bit thin at times – and when at home, sometimes I was just tired and boring (nut never cranky). Training for a 100km event has not made me a more fascinating and interesting person. My garden at times began to resemble a jungle. I quickly cut out shorter 5-10km runs simply because I couldn't find time for them.

Boredom. Yes, at times it got a touch tedious. I loved the long runs, but not every time. Thank goodness for iPods. I spent a lot of time listening to podcasts and listening to music. But even a favourite album gets old. As much as I love running, setting out for yet another two hour run after work was a challenge at times. Different from being bone tired – then I was fine with having a break. However, “I don't wanna” was not a good enough excuse (most times). You can play that card occasionally, but not too often. Once I started I was fine, but getting my butt into gear was hard work some days.

However, there have definitely been rewards and things I have enjoyed. My fitness has increased dramatically, way beyond what I would have ever thought was possible. There is something immeasurably satisfying about running for hours and experiencing yourself so completely as a physical being. Not the fittest, fastest, strongest runner, but a fitter, faster, stronger “me” beyond what I thought was possible. I sometimes feel like a superhero with a secret identity. Preschool teacher by day, crazy runner by night. Maybe I should start wearing my undies on the outside. I am sure that I will finish the 100km, but if not, the training has still brought me a great deal of satisfaction simply because of fitness alone. 

Of course I am not suggesting that it was all a slog.  There have been sublime moments as well, the kind that make it all worthwhile.  Standing in the Jamison Valley watching a wall of cloud swirl around me as it boomed thunder, with a curtain of rain hung right in front of me with hardly a drop touching me.   Wonderful moments of solitude and peace in the middle of nowhere, somewhere in the beautiful outdoors.  Dripping sweat, hot, stinky, sucking on some kind of sport drink, totally at peace.  For whatever reason, this makes me happy. 

Gear and checklists … mmmm, gear … mmm, checklists ... When I first began looking at websites for ultras, they always had “mandatory gear” sections with big long lists of stuff. At first this was a huge turn off (in part because I am such a cheapskate). However I have seemed to accumulate some stuff quite naturally. The main expense was my Salomon vest, which became a 50th birthday present. The poor wife trying to explain to her friends what she was buying me was funny. “You're buying him a what ? What is that? What does it do? Why does he need that ? HOW FAR DOES HE RUN ?” I think in the end it was abbreviated to “some crazy running thing”. I am in love with my “crazy running thing”. This has been a big surprise in my training – just how big a difference it has made. All those easy to reach pockets. Mmm … pockets.

Which leads to lists. Lists of mandatory gear. Lists of things to pack for the weekend. Lists of things to pack into each drop bag. Lists of things to do before the start. Lists of things to have ready at the end. Lists of things to buy. Analysis of training runs: time taken, calories and liquids consumed. Break this down into lists of what to carry each leg of the run, how to carry it. What worked, what didn't. What top/ shorts/ hat to wear ? Undies or commando ? I have loved all this. Nerd heaven. And don't get me started on maps and course directions. Bliss.

Of course, running for hours on end has meant a lot of time to ponder “why”. Should everyone run 100km ? Of course not. What a silly idea. It has been a hard journey to get myself to this point, and I have made sacrifices along the way. Does this make me better than someone else. Of course not. I think most folk should be able to run 5-10km as a basic fitness level, or some similar level of exertion at some activity (or just do something), but after that, what is the point ? The closest I have come to an answer is that at any point in time you have an image of yourself, and a set of beliefs about yourself. I believe all of us want to be the best version of that image that we can. At times what we think is important can change. New things come into the picture, beliefs change. You meet new people with different ideas (I suspect joining the Berowra Bush Runners has been a bad influence). Old beliefs change. Your self image changes. It is probably impossible to put into words exactly why I need to run 100km, but I can say that if I never tried, it would have been one of those horrible “I wonder what if” things that never went away. At this point in time it is a challenge that resonates (and I hope it is still resonating after about 80km).

Do I feel ready ? Yes. Am I ready ? Time will tell. Maybe some folks who have run many of these events would be more certain. I have based my training heavily on Dr Phil Maffetone's “180” formula to promote fat burning and endurance. Keeping your heart rate at “180 minus your age”. Like so many who choose this method, there are initially many long slow runs (much slower than your usual pace), lots of hill walking, and a good deal of frustration. Especially when you head into summer and the heart rate gets up far more easily. Eventually the heart rate monitor died, but I definitely began training at a much lower intensity (intensity goes out the window with heart rate training), and over time I gradually began noticing my pace increasing at a much lower sense of effort. I also began finishing longer runs feeling way less smashed – quite good in fact !

So I will finish typing this, then head out for a last 20km run. Time to taper. Have I done enough. Have I done too much. I have no idea, but no point worrying and second guessing now. It is all part of the challenge, and in two weeks it will be interesting to look back on the journey. But that is for another time.

1 comment:

  1. This is a great article Rob! I love all your points (especially seeing your fitness increase). I was impressed how you flew by me at the Jun-2014 handicap (with you starting 10mins after me!). Maybe you were wearing your undies on the outside. BTW, your mention of the Thermomix has helped me convince Eric we need one. Thanks!