Earlier this year, clearly in a moment of madness, I agreed to run the 100k Race to the Stones, in one go, with an ultra-running friend of mine. I properly committed to the task in February when my father passed away from the effects of an ataxia, or neurological dis-order, and I saw the opportunity to raise awareness of this disease and to raise money to help other sufferers.
100k is starting to get close to the edge of what’s possible for most runners, so where does one start in understanding how to tackle 21/2 marathons in one go?
Well, I started by understanding the simple lessons from those that have managed it:
First, do enough training so you’re fit enough to make the distance.
Second, don’t over train which can lead to injury and prevent you from even making the start line.
From January, I started building up my distance from 10k per run, to circa 50k in one go at over six hours.
There is an optimal heart rate for ultra-long-distance running, called your aerobic heart rate. It varies for each person, and for me is circa 128-134 beats per minute. Assuming you have a good fitness base and good core and leg strength you can keep running at this rate indefinitely!
Experienced runners can sense their heart rate, but I need performance feedback which I got from monitoring my heart rate while running using a Garmin running watch. Over time, training at this aerobic level allows you to run faster at the same heart rate and get much more in tune with the feedback from your body.
As well as getting fit, it’s important to control the conditions as far as possible. This means:
- keep well hydrated and fuelled over the course of a run. A run of 100k requires circa 6000-7000 calories or about three days of food, a great excuse to over eat before and after the run.
- stay comfortable with the right clothes and shoes. Even a crease in your sock can cause blisters that can be debilitating and ruin your performance, so it’s important to pay attention to everything, including the little things, that affects your comfort.
- account for the conditions you can’t control. Weather is a huge factor on performance. Cool conditions allow you to run faster, while heat saps your energy, so anything that moderates your temperature will help. Terrain underfoot is also a factor, so you need appropriate footwear.
On the morning of my run, I was up at 5am to reports of highs of 28 degrees Centigrade, less than ideal conditions for a run along the exposed ridgeway. To deal with this my friend and I reduced our running speed and increased our water consumption. Drinking water every ten minutes, I consumed over 10 litres of water over the full race. As it got hotter, we monitored our heart rate and reduced our speed ensuring we were optimising our performance, increasing our speed when it cooled. My one problem was leg cramping at the 90k mark, which was quickly dealt with by consuming some ready salted crisps, the salt redressed my imbalance due to sweating.
And after 13 long hours of running, we lapped the Avebury Stones and sprinted, after a fashion, across the finish line.
In addition, to being a great day out with friends running along the stunning ridgeway, this run taught me that to deliver performance at the edge of your ability, you need to learn from those that have done it, have a plan that you stick to and a way of monitoring and adjusting your performance to suit and deliver the optimal performance based on the circumstances in the moment.
I was pleased to complete the run in the heat, but also wondered what my performance would have been in optimal conditions. There is evidence that the fastest marathons are run at around 4 degrees centigrade, and a conservative calculation shows my time may have been 12% faster in ideal conditions.
This was a lesson for me in managing performance in adverse conditions. As you may be aware, we champion the concept of optimising workplace conditions – there is irrefutable evidence that that if you get temperature, humidity, CO2 levels, light, space and noise levels to their optimal levels, people are more productive and healthier. Read our quick overview here.
If you’ve been affected by Ataxia or would like to support this charity you can still sponsor John via this link.