13 Lessons: UTA mid-pack perspective

Everyone loves hearing the inspirational feats of the elite runners. Our jaws drop as we hear the winner’s time (9.20…how is that even possible?). But what went down in the middle of the pack? Is there anything to learn from those runners for whom a silver buckle is a distant dream?For anyone who is more likely to crawl up the Furber Steps than sprint, and who maybe had a little meltdown on Nellies stairs, this is for you. Here are some lessons from middle of pack runner Nicki Letts from www.runoldgirlrun.com:Taking in the View at the top of Tarros Ladders

  1. Plan nothing else for the day

Stop seeing the run as race, and instead think of it as something you are doing for the day. As explorer Lawrence Oates famously said, “I am just going outside and may be some time”. Okay, he never returned, but the point is 100km is a bloody long way. Accept that this is something that will take all day and night. Once you can get your head around this, the rest of these lessons are a breeze.

  1. Choose accommodation close to the start/finish line

The last thing you want to worry about is how to get to and from the start/finish line. Especially if you don’t have a support crew. We stayed at Katoomba Falls Caravan Park, less than 1km from Scenic World (book early!). Walking to the KCC and Scenic World is far easier than dealing with shuttles, taxis and car parking. And when your brain isn’t functioning pre- or post-race, easy is exactly what you need.

  1. Get tech tips from the second oldest runner in the field

At T minus 24 hours, we were eating our brekkie in the campsite kitchen when Alf walked in, munching on a bowl of cereal. He quickly pegged us as runners and humbly introduced himself as the second oldest runner in the field, at 73 years old. If this wasn’t inspirational enough, he then taught us how to use the UTA app. Alf told us the app is especially comforting for him, as he could pinpoint his exact coordinates if he wandered off course. Who can argue with that? We downloaded the app.

  1. Invest in the right compression bandage

It’s no secret that UTA guys are strict on the mandatory gear list. We enjoyed a very thorough safety briefing explaining why. But there’s nothing quite like a real-life encounter to drum home the message. On a pre-race morning walk along the trail to Echo Point – the very same track we would be running along – we came across a rather real, big anguish. That’s Latin for snake. And very close to the word ‘anxious’, closer still to the word ‘anguish’. Needless to say, we packed a snake bandaged and passed mandatory gear inspection.Gear Check

  1. Devise a bulletproof nutrition strategy

Ultra runs are really all about the food and drink (and not just the celebratory drinks at the finish line). They can actually be won and lost by fuel choices – or lack thereof. We went into this run knowing what we would be eating and why.

We train with Clif Bars, so that was a no-brainer, and a choice of four flavours meant we wouldn’t get bored. Kooee beef jerky for protein goodness. Mars bars for the later checkpoints when everything starts to taste the same. Electrolytes and salt tablets would keep the cramps at bay. And 2 minute noodles would provide the perfect mix of salt, sugar and warmth at the final checkpoints. Admittedly, we don’t train with 2 minute noodles, but everything else passed the high-energy no-reflux challenge with flying colours.

  1. Drink to your uni days

There’s not a lot of nutrition advice I’d take from my 19-year-old self. Which is why it’s probably surprising that there are two things we consume during the run that once only passed my lips as a hangover cure. The first is flat coke – it gives you all the sugar and caffeine you need for a final push, without any unwelcome bloating. The second is Red Bull. We never drink this stuff, so downing a can at the final water stop gave us wings for the last 5km.

  1. Soak in the views

“The colours are magnificent”, said David King in the Welcome to Country. He hit the nail on the head. I’m not saying you should stop and pull out your selfie stick at every viewpoint, but you are in one of the most breathtakingly beautiful spots in Australia – if you don’t bask in the views, you might as well be running around your local footy ground.Beating the Sun

  1. 8. Train on stairs 

Confession: when running this two years ago, I had a meltdown in the middle of what’s best described as the waterfall section (Leg 5). I simply wasn’t prepared for that many stairs at that stage of the race. It didn’t help that we were running in the dark and could only hear what we presumed were very beautiful waterfalls (this wasn’t good for bladder control either!). This time, not only did we train for stairs, we made it our goal to get to this section in daylight. Meltdown averted.

  1. Don’t count the Furber Steps

There are 951 uneven stairs climbing up, up and across the finish line of UTA100. But do yourself a favour: do not count them. Sometimes it’s just better not to know.Mt Buller

  1. When all else fails, dance up the hill 

As trail runners, we don’t run with music. We talk or enjoy the silence and the sound of waterfalls (sigh). But there’s nothing like your favourite tunes for a pick-me-up. I carried it the whole way and only used it to pull me out of my darkest moments (specifically between 85-95km).

That said, I am incredibly grateful to my co-midpack-runner, Mat, who told me halfway up the Furber Steps to turn off my music. I did, and my reward was the sound of cowbells and realisation that the end was really, really close.On top of the world CP1-CP2

  1. Hide a treat at the finish line

After 15+ hours of drinking and eating, more food and drink is usually the last thing you crave. But crossing the 100km finish line puts you into a whole new mentality. You want to celebrate before you collapse into a post-run coma. But being a mid-pack runner, there’s no guarantee the bar will still be open when you rock up. That’s why this year we popped a mini bottle of wine and beer into our finish line bag. And man, did it taste good!

  1. Don’t anticipate a good post-run sleep

The night’s sleep after 100km must be the best of your life, right? Wrong. Your brain is asleep but your legs are still out there on the trail. Get ready for a night of twitching, dancing and kicking. They will even start running at one point. You’ll dream about falling over twigs on the trail and wake up in frenzy. Do yourself a favour, enjoy the finish line for a few hours – stretch, relax and cheer other runners across the line. There’s certainly no sleep waiting for you back at the hotel! Oh and if you usually share a bed, warn your co-habitant that they won’t be getting any sleep either.Into the Wild

  1. Forget what you said at the finish line

 Remember when you swore you would never do this ever again? You lied. You’ll stew for a couple of hours/days/weeks. Then the pain will fade. And only the good bits are left. Like when you were running through Leura Falls and the sky turned purple. Or when the volunteer at the final water stop told you to “get out of here, we don’t want you to hang around!” Or when, halfway up the Furber Steps, you were fighting back the tears and the runner behind gave you a pep talk. Or when you grabbed your partner’s hand and sprinted across the finish line to cheers and bells. Oh yes, you’ll be back. And next time, while it will still hurt, you’ll know just how incredible it feels to reach the end.

Read more of Nicki Letts’ musings on a trail running lifestyle at www.runoldgirlrun.com 

RESULTS from UT: http://uta.livetrail.net/classement.php

Screenshot 2016-04-11 21.50.21

Enter the Sandes Man: TNF 100 preview

Trail Run Mag catches up with South African and Salomon super trail star, Ryan Sandes, to get a vibe on how it feels to be the favourite in this weekend’s The North Face 100, a race with a fair few thoroughbreds on track, and the changing face of trail running as it booms across the world (hello Transvulcania…). INTERVIEW: Chris Ord IMAGES: courtesy RyanSandes.com.

1. Straight in to it – you’re roundly touted as the most likely winner this year, how does that pressure play on your mind leading into next weekend?

I think there are a number of competitors that can win the race so I am not focusing on the results too much. My main focus is to have a strong run and the rest will come. 100km is a long way, so anything can happen.  

2. Some pundits reckon you’re tuned enough to break the race record (which has been broken every year the event has taken place). Thoughts? Is that something you have in your head when you’re running well at the halfway mark or…?

I would imagine the winning time will be under 9 hours 30 mins ,so I am sure the winner will get close to the coarse record. No, I am personally not too focused on the record but I will have the record time stored in the back of my head somewhere ;-). [9hrs 19min 06 seconds]

3. You have been quoted as saying last year’s run didn’t go as smoothly for you as you would have liked yet you still managed third with a sub ten hour time – what was the Achilles last year and what’s changed about your form/approach this year?

Last year was my first mountain 100km race, so I was not sure what to expect. I made a few mistakes like not drinking enough during the first 30km, which hurt me during the middle section of the race. I am a more experienced runner this year and hoping for a more consistent performance during the race. 

4. You tend to arrive early and really get to grips with the trail your’re about to run on – how much of the TNF course have you rerun in the last week and where do you think your crux will come (and why)?

The one thing I love about trail running is that I get to travel the world and explore new places. I always try get out to my races early to experience the local culture and environment as well as running parts of the race route. I have run about 60% of the route… I think the race will come down to being strong in the final 30km.

5. Many may have expected you to be running at the Transvulcania – why did you choose to race here instead of there?

I entered the TNF100 Australia before the Sky Running Ultra series was announced but that said, I really enjoy Australia and wanted to come back for the race again. 

6. How does the Blue Mountains course suit you in particular – strengths and weaknesses on it?

I would like to think I am quite an all round runner so the course should suit me … I’m not giving much away here :-). 

7. You had 30 mins plus over fourth placed (Goerke) and other locals (Donges, Davies, etc al) last year, but they are being touted as serious threats with a much deeper field this year than last – how do you think the competition has changed over the past year?

Yes, it’s really exciting to see how trail running is growing around the world. I think everyone is improving and it is going to be a very exciting race. I think there will be a lot more people under sub-10 hours this year. 

8. Everyone’s talking about how the sport of ultra and trail running in general is changing rapidly, with ‘celebrity’ runners the likes of yourself and Jornet in ascendancy – talk to me about how you as a person and as a runner have changed over the past few years of racing?

I am still the same person as a few years back… the main difference is I drink less tequila now J .  More Red Bull and Vodka.. haha! I started running relatively late and competed in my first ultra in 2008 – the whole experience has been life changing. It’s exciting to see the sport becoming more professional and creating so many opportunities for trail runners. I have been lucky enough to run on all 7 continents and explore the world through trail running. 

9. You remain based in South Africa – is there any pressure to be based in Europe or the States these days, given the competition, or is ultra trail a truly global sport, doesn’t matter where you’re based?

I spend quite a lot of time abroad but still keep Cape Town my base. We have great running there…just no altitude. I think when I run UTMB I would need to spend a lot more time in Europe getting used to the Euro trails. Their climbs are massive and the running can be very technical. At the end of the day trail running is a global sport and it’s really easy to jump on a plane and fly to a race in the US etc.

10. You seem to be a runner that escapes major injury time – what’s your approach to physical preservation?

I try do a bit of cross training like mountain biking etc. I do a lot of core work and spend a lot of time keeping my ‘wheel alignment straight’ i.e. I see a Physio, Chiro, Lynotherapist, Massage and Biokinetisist regularly. 

11. How many ultras do you think, in peak form, your body could handle in a year?

3-4 a year .. maybe 5 at a push.  

12. Beyond winning the TNF100, what are you targets in the next year or so?

I am running Western Sates 100 in June and would love to line up at UTMB soon. 

13. You’re sixty kays in, the hurt is there…where is the Sandes’ mind at – take me through some honest moments of where you’re at mentally, what demons come to you in particular while out there on trail and what you lean on for inspiration to get you through?

Running in an individualist sport but I feel I am running for more than just me…I focus on the surroundings and try and keep my mental attitude as positive as possible. Luckily I am normally running in the most beautiful parts of the world so the hurt is not too bad.

Thanks Ryan, good luck on the weekend at The North Face 100. Remember: 9 hours 19 mins and 05 seconds is your mark…

Trail Run Mag will be on course reporting and updating live via TRM’s Facebook. ‘Like’ us and stay tuned.