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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Don’t count the Furber Steps
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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