Monday, September 23, 2013

RACE REPORT - Yurrebilla 56km Ultra Marathon 2013

The Ultra Anniversary.............

Exactly 12 months ago I lined up under the historic Belair sign embarking on what was to be my first Ultra Marathon.  That day changed my life, thrusting me into the ultra world.

I learned a lot that day; not just about running, but about myself emotionally and spiritually.

Current form is questionable as the lead up training being heavily hampered by a new job taking a huge amount of time to get going, and also an ongoing issue with my belly going bad on me during all my long runs.

If I was going to make it today, the belly was going to have to play the game.  Some weeks ago, this single item stood out as a major red flag.  The issue with being under prepared with training wasn't a major concern as I did the same thing last year, but if the belly was going to act in the same way it has for the last 9 months, it would probably result in my first ever DNF.

So in the week before the race, I'm off to see Stephanie Gaskell at Nutrition Strategies, who is not only an elite ultra marathon runner in her own right, but a specialist nutritionist.  Who better qualified to attend to my problems.  Steph kindly offered to work with me on the bigger picture with the charity run to Melbourne in support of Crohns Disease as her business is so closely aligned.

An hour later, and a whole new outlook on nutrition planning (against all the rules I've been working with to date) I'm off to the grocery store to stock up on my pre event and on event fuel sources.

The day comes by quick.  I used to be so much more prepared but I've become a bit complacent lately.  I arrive just over an hour early, just in time to see one of my clients set off on her first trail ultra.  Having an almost identical preparation to myself last year I'm sure she's going to have a tough but successful day ahead.  "Good luck Grace" and she's off.

Now it's my turn, standing on that same spot, but now registered in the group A, I was feeling a little like an imposter when looking around at some of the faces and knowing their ability.  But too late now, I'm in and the slower group start waves are long gone.  "C'mon Matt, you've got this. You've done this one before so you know what you're up against"

I set my drop bags down and double check it's all laid out in the easiest format to 'grab and go'.  Shortly after, Wayne, a long term friend and another of my running clients, from Sydney arrives also for his first trail ultra.  Looking well prepared but anxious it's obvious his mind has been spinning for days.  Following Wayne's progress over recent months I'm convinced this is the only time I'll see him until the finish line.

"10 minutes until start" I overhear from a conversation nearby.  Wow, really? I thought we still had ages; as I double check against my watch...... So it is.

Fuel belt on, food, water, a quick pic with Wayne, watch is on, "HOOOOOOOOOOT" and off we go to the air horn.

"Right, here we go. Take it easy. There's a little bit of climbing to kick us of for a few km's then we go down."  Downhill will remain to be my strength.  "Conserve on the ups Matt"

I settle in to my watch rather than watching the crowd in front knowing this field are much stronger than I am.  If I get caught up in their 'wash' I'm in trouble.

30 minutes and I'm in to the first 5km drink stop.  "Ok, feeling comfortable. Let's pick up a little time on this downhill for a few km's before the 15km's of incline approaching."

Time to get some food in.... 20g carbs for now just to keep on top of things.  Must get up to 40g by the 1hr mark.

Whilst it's a bit of a climb, we are all well rewarded for our efforts with the stunning view of the entire city covered with nothing but blue skies.  This is why I run trails.  This right here is enough to take the mind away from the daunting miles yet to be covered.......

Before long, whilst allowing myself to soak up the amazing views of the Adelaide Hills I come into the first main checkpoint at approximately 21kms.  "Ok, 2:18, I'm way out on last years time and feeling good."  A little worked due to the heavy climb, but reasonably ok considering it's highest peak in South Australia.  A good friend of mine who's offered to support both Wayne and I for the day greets me there with my changeover bottles and my drop bag with the food for the next leg.  "Thanks Greg" and off I go.  I remembered spending about 3-4 minutes there last year so I was determined to keep each of these aid stops to under a minute.... 49 seconds and I'm out of there.....

A Few km's ahead I see the familiar bright red hair of Grace.  "Oh no, I shouldn't be seeing her this early in the race.  Something is wrong!"......... I slowly pull up next to her, to find her quite emotional and clearly in huge pain.  I offer what support and advice I can at such a time but shortly after I push on.  While I'd like to see her complete this tough task, I'm convinced here that today is not her day.  I find later that she forced out an amazing 10 more kilometres before pulling out.  I'm sure every one of those extra steps will be burned into her memory for life......... Well done Grace, we'll see you there next year.

From memory, there's a small amount of descent and climb just ahead before HORSNELLS GULLY.........  There's 3 sections of this race that I remember most from last year, and this is one of them.  A long steep descent, before the nasty climb back out.  "Time to rock the downhill so I've got some time to play with getting back out of here."  I pass a fair number through the technical, rocky single track thinking that today may result in my first real stack.  Thankfully I reach the bottom unscathed.....

The climb is as remembered.  However I manage a load better than I last attempted.  (I begin thanking Steph right here).  Something seems to be going the right way for a change.  Not to mention stopping to take a photo bomb of a wandering koala along the now wider track helped take the mind away from the near 45 degree incline.

I need to be out of Horsnells in under 4hours if I'm to have a shot at a sub 7hr time knowing the trek ahead.  Hitting the top at 3:56 gave me some relief, and more to the point that within seconds of reaching the top and it returning back down again I'm back into a solid rhythm.  This is great!!!!!  (I thank Steph yet again)

OK, so it's downhill now until the 38km aid station.  Let's get some time back.  Pace is good, belly is good, quads a little fatigued from pushing hard on the downs but they're manageable.  I stick with the fuelling plan and push on.


I come into the 38km checkpoint feeling exceptionally better than last year.  I have a distinct memory of 'struggletown' at this point last year, so to be running a steady pace right now is a huge uplift.  Sub 7 is definitely there. YES!!!!!!

Greg kindly greets me at the aid stop, helping me grab my food for this final leg, a quick swig of ginger beer to help keep the belly on the right level, and off I go with Greg telling me that Wayne is only 2 minutes ahead.  "Really?"  I thought he'd be at least 30 minutes ahead.  He must be struggling because he is clearly a stronger runner than I am.  I suspect he may be saving something for the end as I know he's studied these maps in depth.  This aid stop costs me 1 minute 4 seconds so that's ok.

Back into rhythm straight away but I know this section is about to get warm.  Last year in almost identical conditions, there was something about the climb along the western face of the mountain that seemed to make it feel 10 degrees hotter.  A few minutes and I come into the always entertaining 42km drink station, famous for outrageous costumes and Coca-Cola as the preferred beverage.  Not on the plan as I'd been convinced to follow the agenda to the letter, I'm almost forced to take on some coke as they're basically out of water.  "Oh no, this is not what I wanted to here coming into the hottest part of the race, and the next stop is 7kms away."  (That said, the mere fact that they have a drink stop here is amazing due to it's remote, UPHILL location, far from any car access, so thank you especially to these hardworking volunteers)

I decide to suck it up and put in what I can through Morialta.  I know this section well as I've run more than a dozen times.  "only 14kms to go.  I know if I push up this hill, I can afford to expel what energy I have knowing the long descent after is a strong point of mine.

Just as the top of Morialta becomes in reaching distance I see Wayne walking up one of the last descents.  I yell out from 50m behind o let him know of my presence.  We share a couple of words before he decides to push on up the hill taking his lead to around 100-150m before pulling back to a walk up the final climb.  I decide to reserve a little here given the last little incline is steep but short.  There's no point burning what I have on such a short hill when it may only gain me a few seconds.  Let's save that for the 6-7 km descent. 

We hit the top......... YES. I know from here I have only one more challenge..... The infamous BLACKHILL!!!!

Last year I decided to take it easy on this decline as a means of saving myself for the excruciating final climb, but this year I decide to work with my strength and punch out some low 5min km's.  (I know these aren't fast in real terms but at this stage on tired legs it's a solid struggle).  Again I think of how Steph's planning has clearly paid off.......  How is it that I can still run this pace when last year I had nothing?????

I run out of water about 2km away from the drink station.  I see a couple of emergency volunteers carrying their own personal water bottle and half hesitate to ask for a splash, but pride keeps me from doing so and I push on.

Greg....... what a sight for sore eyes.  I wasn't expecting to see him until the end.  I'm in and out, topped up and water soaked over the head in less than 40 seconds.  "Let's get this bastard outta the way"

Last year it took me nearly an hour to get from here to the finish, and I know I finish really hard and strong on the final descent last year so with 6:10 on the clock, I'd better work hard from here to secure a sub seven.......  Chanting "Sub 7....... Sub 7......Sub 7" and random points on the up.....

There's 3 parts to this sucker......... the never ending 30degree climb for a few kms, followed by a steep 45 degree mental tester, followed again by some further rolling hills that catch you out when you first think that you've got to the top.  I'm not sure what bit is worse, but in all they add up to one major hurt fest after 50kms in the legs.  "C'mon Matt, a few minutes of pain and then you're on the down"

The final 3kms is one of my favourite trails to run locally, and I always make habit of no matter how I'm feeling to just suck up everything I've got and let loose down a tight, winding single track.  It's a mix between knowing there's no more climbs, the finish is within crawling distance and the mere fact that it's an awesome section of the trail.  I hit the entrance to this track next to another runner, and I mumble as I pass by "OK, 3 to go, time to suck it up and let loose"

If there's anywhere I'm gonna stack it, it's here.  Legs like jelly, quads burning like I'd put deep heat in my undies, but no time to look at the watch due to the winding, tree lined descent.  "sub 7........ sub 7........"

I come to the familiar steep rocky section that until now thought it wasn't runnable.  Leaping from one boulder down to another looking 3-4 steps ahead I pass 2 runners murmuring something how I was crazy (which is a compliment in my eyes, lol) all the while thinking if I stack it here, there's no way I'd be avoiding a trip to the hospital.  Yes, I've rock-hopped down avoiding a broken ankle or worse.

Here's the final few hundred meters on the access road to the final line.  I hear the crowd which gives the buzz I need to burn to the end.  Pushing beyond the barriers, everything burning, I empty an already dry tank.  The bubbly character of Karen over the PA is reeling me in as I push through at low 3min pace (of which I knew it was a strong finish but didn't realise so strong until reviewing the Garmin), and there's Sadie to slide the hard earned medal over my dripping head. 6:50:47!!!!!!!!!! YEEEEHAAAAAA. I did it.  I can't believe it!!!!!

Greg immediately comes up, I'm sure saying something encouraging but to be honest I heard nothing.  There could've been a marching band there and I'd have no idea.  I found a clear spot, and flopped down flat on my back, while Greg kindly grabbed me some refreshments.

I get up a few minutes later to have Wayne cross the line on his first amazing adventure.  What a moment for him.  I can see he's hurting but deep down in awe of what he's just accomplished.  Well done Wayne, that moment will be with you for life!!!!!

Yurrebilla 2013 was everything I'd hoped it be, when only a few weeks ago I was dreading even taking off due to the recent issues.  This event is amazing on so many levels.  The terrain is terribly challenging with the volume of ascent and descent per kilometre in the higher range of difficulty compared to most ultra's, but the vibrant culture that has been instilled to this event over the years brings with it an experience that all runners need to be apart of at least once in their lives.

I'd like to thank Greg for his amazing support throughout the day, the organisers for their flawless coordination and to no end Stephanie Gaskell for not only getting me through this, but ensuring a huge PB at a time I half considered pulling out.

With this now behind me, and the confidence I can solve the belly issue, Yurrebilla 2014 will be a whole new game!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Friday, May 24, 2013

RACE DAY TIPS FOR DISTANCE RUNNERS: What to do in the days leading up to the big day

You've done the hard work.......  You've consistently dragged yourself out of bed early in the freezing cold to commit to your training, or went out on those hot, humid days to not get off track.  So how do you make the most of the event and capitalise on your efforts?

Here's my top 10 must do's as race day closes in:

#10:  REGISTER EARLY:  Firstly, registering early commits you to the event, thus committing you to your training on a more specific basis.  Often the reason why people get off track with their training.  Secondly, you don't want the frustration of doing all the hard work, to find that there's been a sell out by the time you get online with your credit card in hand.

#9:  WEAR YOUR RACE GEAR:  It's no doubt common knowledge by most that you should 'bed' your shoes in to avoid blisters or other nasty uncomfortable surprises on race day so I'm not going to nag on this point.  What IS however often overlooked is your other gear.  It may come as a surprise that shoes are not the only thing you wear to a race, (well for the non-nudist folk anyway lol).  With that in mind, items such as your shirt, shorts, or socks can play havoc should you not test them out prior.  Your new fancy 'highly recommended' socks may have a seam that creates a point of friction, turning to blisters.  Your shirt may just happen to rub under the arm causing chaffing, etc etc.  You get the idea.

Work out what you intend to wear for the event, and wear this during some of your longer runs.

#8:  FAMILIARISE YOURSELF WITH THE COURSE:  There's not much point in running 50km's a week on flat bitumen, just to find that it's a hilly, technical single track trail run.  Or vice versa.  Ideally, if it's a local course, try to go out for a few sessions on the actual route to get familiar with the terrain, turns, or other conditions that may throw some interesting challenges at you on the day.  You have enough to contend with on the day let alone having random obstacles come up along the way.

Most well organised events will have on their website a course map and sometimes some course notes if it's fairly lengthy and/or challenging.  Be sure to check these out, and especially where you are able to park on the morning.  CBD events can sometimes see people missing the start of their race as they didn't consider parking restrictions or the sheer volume of entrants taking up what parking may have been there.

#7:  TAPER DOWN ACCORDING TO YOUR RACE & TRAINING:  Don't overtrain!!!!!  In fact, it's a widely accepted rule amongst distance runners that "it's better to be undertrained than overtrained at the starting line".  I find myself sounding a little hypocritical as I rite this point, sitting here majorly overtrained 2 days out of a marathon.  The purpose for this is because I was not actually training specifically for this event, but merely entering as I didn't want to miss it.

The length of tapering, and strategy behind it will vary depending on a few variables.  The event length, the amount of training miles your doing, and your personal recovery rate (which varies from one person to another).  By considering these items, one can strategize their way to their perfect taper plan.

#6:  PRACTICE WHAT YOU'LL EAT:  Don't make the stupid mistake that myself along with many others have made on race day by eating something on the morning or during an event that you haven't tested on training runs.  Just because you've eaten this particular item before and it hasn't caused any issues, that doesn't mean it's ok for you whilst running.  The tummy can become quite sensitive for some people (myself included) and can make an intended PB possibility turn to an utter mess of discomfort and misery should you not manage this item carefully.

Be sure to get into a routine of WHAT you eat, and WHEN you eat it in conjunction with your training runs.  Find what works best for you on your tempo runs as well as your long runs; as your race day will be somewhere between the conditions of these.

#5:  HYDRATE CORRECTLY:  The importance of good water levels in the body is often overlooked in terms of performance.  The fact is, water is vital for energy transfer through the bloodstream, so should you be under hydrated before and/or during the event, you will suffer.

Good hydration does not start on the morning of the race by downing 2 litre's of water.  For proper hydration the body needs 3-4 days to take in and stock up levels.

With all this in mind, it must be noted here not to OVER hydrate either.  Over hydrating, or Hyponatremia, occurs when the body is over-saturated with water creating an imbalance of vital electrolytes, with most importance on sodium levels. 

A good sign is (a tad bit graphic but needs to be said) your urine should be a real pale yellow colour for the 3 days leading up to the event.  (ideally at all times but that's not always manageable).  Should it be a bright yellow, you are under hydrated; whereas completely clear may be a sign of over hydrating.  Be sure to manage this item closely.

#4:  SLEEP:  The night before the big day can be a little unnerving.  So much so that insomnia is a common threat to a runners plans.  The good news here is studies have shown that the sleep you get 2 nights before the event plays a higher role than that of the night immediately before the event.  ie, If your race is to take place on a Sunday morning, be sure to get a good nights sleep on Friday night.  Should you struggle to get some shut eye on the Saturday night, it's not going to affect your performance as much as you may think.

The longer your event, the more important this aspect becomes.  Not necessarily for physical performance, but more so the mental side.  For example, if you've got a marathon or more on the cards, the mental endurance for these events is critical.  Be sure to consider this need and match the supply to the demand.

#3:  FUEL UP ACCORDING TO YOUR EVENT:  There is a heap of contradicting arguments out there as to whether 'carbo loading' is beneficial or detrimental to your performance.  Not having a PhD myself nor conducted detailed studies it would be inappropriate for me to say which is right or wrong on a broad scale.  However, what I can say is that energy levels become of vital importance when you intend to put in 100% on race day.  The longer and/or more intense the race, the more important this topic becomes.

It is my personal plan to fuel up well 48 hours out from the event, mainly because I do not intend carrying unnecessary weight in the gut that the big 'night before pasta party' can do to you.  Digestion takes time so don't think that because you ate that huge bowl of spaghetti the night before that it will of great benefit.

Limited fuelling could see you run flat before you finish, making those last few km's quite challenging indeed.

Overdoing this aspect can do you a disservice by adding extra weight, and also requiring the body to be utilising vital energy supplies to processing and digesting that food, rather than utilising this energy for your intended purpose:  Surging towards that finish line!!!!

Be sure to not only consider the energy itself, but also vital minerals and vitamins that the body will need throughout and after the event.  This item becomes more and more crucial the longer the event length.  Potassium, magnesium and sodium to name a few play a huge role in keeping the body functions and muscle contractions in order, and become depleted very quickly in marathon and ultra marathon runners.  Be sure to adequately stock up on these before and possibly during the event if conditions require it.

#2:  PRE PACK YOUR GEAR:  Don't leave it to the morning of the race to go finding that odd sock or locate where the kids have put your race bib.  These morning arte often an early rising as it is, let along having to deal with getting all this together as well.  You want you pre race routine to be as comfortable and easy going as possible.  Lay all your gear out in an easy to see, clear space and check that your typical breakfast supplies are in stock.

Allow yourself every opportunity to get the head into the right space rather than running around crazily looking for your gear all morning, and having to rush to the start line all hyped up.

#1:  GET UP EARLY:  Set 2 alarms, one being across the room so you have to get out of bed to turn it off.  Firstly, if you're like me, it takes the mind and body a little while to fully get into action on those early mornings.  But more importantly why I get up earlier than needed for the race, is you need to have breakfast around 2 hours before start time.  This will give the gut plenty of time to digest the food properly, so this process is not having to occur while you're trying to push up that nasty climb.

Again, having all this time on your hands before the race allows you to just relax and enjoy the experience which is essentially the reason why we run isn't it????

With the above tips in mind, you're now ready to go about your race in best form.  You've trained well, and now you've prepared yourself in such a way to give you every opportunity towards a rewarding outcome.  Whether this is a podium, a PB or merely a memorable finish.

Plan ahead and you're sure to be rewarded!!!!!