The ups and downs of preparing for an ultra

So, Race to the Stones is in just over a week’s time and I am wonderfully under-prepared as always. Of course now there’s nothing I can do about it. There isn’t enough time to cram in any serious training. I may do some shorter distance runs over the weekend but basically the taper needs to start early next week; any later than that would be an act of self-sabotage.

I am only going to do 50k of course. Let’s keep it real. I’m not one of those nutters doing the whole 100k. Then I’ve opted to camp over because I’m hoping it’s going to be epic. (I have an image of the atmosphere of a music festival campsite in my head.)

I haven’t planned my lift home, I’ve probably not read two or three important emails that have gone out from the organisers, and that’s before we even get into my approach to the official training plan.

The line I’m telling myself is that I’ve done a marathon distance now and the longest run on the training plan is only a half marathon distance. But I’ve only done it once, and then there are all those smaller runs and cross training sessions I conveniently forgot about.

I think the bottom line is that training for a marathon or an ultra takes an awful lot of time. That’s what people don’t seem to tell you. There’s a lot of talk about the commitment required but it doesn’t really get the point across. So let me set the record straight: training for an ultra will take up half of every weekend, and most of your evenings, for months on end. If, like me, you faff about a bit on a Saturday morning before getting out of the house, then you won’t start your run until mid to late morning. Then, if the run is taking you four hours plus, you won’t finish until mid to late afternoon, and that’s before you’ve even showered or eaten, something you might not do straight away because you will have monged out on the sofa for an hour or so once you get through the door.

Then you’ll be too knackered to do anything for the rest of the day, and you will ache the next day, meaning you’ll probably do less than you would have done on the Sunday as well.

And that is why I’ve found myself not quite so crazy about doing every single one of the evening runs as well. Did you know that the official training plan for Race to the Stones recommends six days of exercise a week?

How many times can you answer co-workers’ question about your plan for the evening or weekend with “I’m going for a run” before you turn into a running bore?

The truth is, I’m looking forward to breathing a sigh of relief once the event is over. I then hope to re-assess my approach to running. Am I really a distance person? My best times have been on 5ks, 10ks and the Reading half marathon.

Is this what they talk about when they say don’t burn yourself out with over-training? But how can I be burnt out if I haven’t bothered following half the training plan?

It reminds me of a detail from a book I’ve been reading lately, Running with the Kenyans. The author points out that they basically live the “eat, run, sleep, repeat” mantra, and that’s why they’re so damn good, whereas Westerners tend to pigeon-hole running into a slot on an already packed schedule.

We have so much shit to do every single day of the week: eat breakfast, turn up to work, hoover the house, renew your driving licence, go to the pub, discover whatever show someone has told you is the new, most epic, must-see show ever made since Game of Thrones…

Running is supposed to be a break from all of that, not another item on the to-do list.

And I’m sure that if all goes well on the day, as soon as the buzz starts kicking in, I’ll remember why I do this and start loving it all over again. Then I’ll come home all excited and sign up to another one.

(I’ll keep you posted.)

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