In the final week of her training, our Online News Ed Rhalou seeks spiritual guidance from experienced ultra runner Robbie Britton and tries not to die of fear.
With four days to go until The Hoka Highland Fling, after four months of intensive training, 15 training blogs and lord knows how many training runs, I’m so nervous I can barely speak, never mind write a comprehensible blog, so bear with me.
Having run several marathons and a couple of little ultras I thought I knew how to prepare for a big race, but it turns out that the length of the run is directly proportional to the pre race nerves, and I am experiencing 53 miles worth of fear.
Thank God for running friends. One of the main reasons I have always been attracted to the ultra community is the spirit of kinship. All runners are fabulous people (obviously) but the ultra runners I have met have gone the extra mile (in more ways than one!) Running long distance is a tough business. You need to be just the right amount of crazy to want to do it, but you also need the support of your pals and ultra runners stick together. Just when I needed it the most, team GB ultra runner Robbie Britton got in touch and offered to give me some coaching tips for tackling the race.
As well as participating in extreme distance races, Robbie runs his own online ultra coaching business RobbieBritton.co.uk, making him the perfect chap to chat to about the impending race. We met over a cuppa in London Bridge and Robbie regaled me with ultra running tales, before offering some sound advice that will hopefully see me through race day.
Run your own race
As with most races, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement and set off too quickly, but ultras are one place you definitely want to run your own race.
‘A lot of people get caught up with other runners, but if you’re not comfy in those first 20 miles, you’re going too hard,’ says Robbie. ‘You don’t need to run hard and lots of people shoot off too quick. The average pace of the winners is still 7.5-8 minute miles, no one’s dropping sub 6 the whole way.’
Plan your nutrition
In most race situations you want a quick energy fix to help you speed towards the finish line, which is why gels and sweeties are perfect for running. But the difference with ultras is you’re out there for much longer, so you don’t want to rely on the peaks (and experience the inevitable dips) a sugar hit provides.
‘Don’t get on the sugar train too early, as once you’re on it you’ve got to stay on it.’ says Robbie. ‘If you can eat gels for 15 hours then good for you that’s fine, but slow release food is better.’
‘I start on the sensible stuff such as rice cakes with peanut butter and jam, I eat them for as long as I can, then I go on to the sweeter stuff later,’ he added. ‘In an ultra you want to keep eating from the first half an hour. Think of eating as part of the challenge and keep eating all day – I call it a really long picnic!’
The hills have eyes
As a Londoner I’ve found it hard to train for the Fling with the absence of hills. How do I cope with the hillier sections on race day?
‘In the race, walk the hills, there’s no rush to get up them. It’s less about speed and more about efficiency, and if the most efficient way to get up that hill is to walk it, do it. Add benefit to your walk and eat at the same time.’
I’ve been worrying about water, as I’ve found I rarely finish my Camelbak in a 20-mile run and find it heavy to lug about.
‘It makes more sense to go lighter and refill,’ says Robbie. ‘There’s no point in carrying loads as every kg you have on your back will weigh you down. Look at how long it will take you between each section. If it takes you 30 seconds to refill at a station without having to carry an extra kg, that will make your race easier. Bottles are also easier than Camelbaks as you’ll be able to see exactly how much you’ve drunk.’
‘Plan it as you don’t want to get dehydrated,’ he added. ‘A two per cent drop in dehydration could make a huge difference to your performance levels, so if you’ve got to stop to pee but you know the rest you’ll be going steady, it’s worth it.’
It’s all too easy to forget why we enter these crazy events in the first place. Unless you’re a pro athlete, 99 per cent of the running field are there to have fun.
‘Enjoy it, the training is the hard bit, this is the fun bit and why you put all the hard work in,’ says Robbie. ‘Chat to people, learn from their experiences, just enjoy it and have fun. If you have a low point don’t worry as it will pass, and just think of the enormous high when you get to the finish line.’
And how do you cope with the inevitable low points? ‘If you’re feeling shit, look around you and find someone feeling worse and chat to them to try and cheer them up; you’ll be amazed how good it will make you feel. You can feed off trying to cheer up fellow runners.’
Thanks to Robbie for his excellent race day tips and thanks to you lot for reading my endless blogs, it’s been an amazing and empowering journey and I can’t wait to run the race. Look out for runner number 22 on Saturday, you can track me here or send me a tweet @Rhalou I’ll be back next week with a 53-mile long race report!