Monday, August 09, 2010

Eating Up The Miles

I had been nervously anticipating this weekend ever since I pinned the training schedule onto my wardrobe. 9 hours of running over 2 days – now that, finally, is Ultra training!

It was that training session that made me switch my long runs from early mornings (very early mornings!) to the weekend. It’s just not feasible to run that much before work and still expect to function; the sleep deprivation alone would knock me out, never mind the miles.

Still, since my presence was required in the house from lunchtime, I got up as soon as I woke at 6 am, had some breakfast, waited a bit to let it settle and was out of the house by 7 o’clock. It was a miserable drizzly grey morning but by concentrating purely on running I managed to tune out the drab conditions.

I started by doing an extended 16.5 miles loop around Caragh Lake, which would enable me to resupply at that point. I don’t like running with a rucksack and a handheld bottle was all I needed. Tucked into my fancy new ultra runner shorts were a granola bar, 2 gels and a flask of water mixed with a teaspoon of chia seeds. The idea for those were obviously gleaned from that one ubiquitous book about ultra running that everybody seems to have read, though I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to resist the temptation of barefoot running. I have used those seeds before, but only pre-run to stock up on carbs before a long run, never on the run itself. As it turned out over the next couple of hours, not only are those seeds pretty awful to swallow (it’s what I expect swallowing a handful of tadpoles would be like), my stomach revolted and let me know how unhappy he was. That’s why you try out things during training runs, of course - one more thing I can chalk off the list for Dingle. Say, anyone want to take an unwanted bag of seeds off my hands?

The stomach eventually settled when I ate my bar; during my marathon days I would never even have contemplated eating solid food on the run, but the right food at the right time works very well at the slower ultra paces. After completing the first loop I did a smaller loop around the Devils’ Elbow, going the opposite direction of my first loop for a few miles and including a wickedly steep climb up to the ridge, where I was pleased to find that my legs were in very good shape. They had started sending worrisome signals between miles 13 and 16, but once my stomach had settled the legs seemed to follow suit and I recovered very well. At one stage the pace had dropped to about 9:15 or so, but I recovered and by the time 4 hours were up I had covered just over 26.5 miles, and the gels came back home, untouched.

I slept a bit longer on Sunday, but apart from that my morning started in the same fashion and I was out of the house at 7:40. In marked contrast to the day before the sun was shining and it looked like a marvellous day, which helped the spirit. I guessed I could do with every bit of support, because today would not be easy. The legs felt not exactly sprightly, but considering I had run more than a marathon the day before, they were in excellent condition.

I started with the same loop as on Saturday, but running a bit slower. As recently as four weeks ago it would have been unthinkable to run as slow as 9-minute miles but I got into that habit very quickly; you don’t have a choice once the back-to-back runs start in earnest. After crossing Blackstones Bridge about halfway through the loop and making my way along the lake shore towards home I started getting tired; especially the hips seemed to suffer, but at that point I concentrated purely on finishing that loop and didn’t think about even one step beyond that point. I had originally planned to just refill my water bottle, but I ended up going back home, changing my top, using the toilet and eating a banana. I thought it was a very short break but according to the Garmin it took almost 10 minutes, which surprised me. It shows how quickly time can pass and in a race situation you would not want to spend that much time idling around.

Anyway, as soon as I was ready I was out of the door again. The banana was another thing to try in training. I’ve heard that they will be offered at aid stations in Dingle and had to test it out in training. Thankfully it turned out to be much more agreeable than the seeds from yesterday.

I had planned to do a double loop around the lake for a long time, basically from the moment I signed up for the ultra. Since then I have done countless single loops, and each time I had shivered at the thought of doing it again on tired legs. Now it was time to do it for real. Since the first 16.5 miles had taken me 2:35, I ran a shorter version for my second go, only 15 miles but it included the wicked climb from yesterday. Then again, while exhaustion was slowly creeping into all systems, I knew I would be able to finish without much hassle. On the long downhill from the highest point both of my shins started to hurt quite badly and I was grimacing as I went along. A flatter loop would have been easier; on the uphills I was hurting from sheer exhaustion, on the downhills I was hurting from the shins, but on the flat parts I was moving along steadily, fairly slow but constantly making progress. I passed the marathon mark a few minutes after 4 hours and rewarded myself with a celebratory carbohydrate gel. Oh the joy!

I was exhausted, but as I ran along the lake I remembered that I had felt tired at the same location yesterday, then more so at the same point on my first loop, so of course I was knackered now. It was hard work to keep going on tired legs, but I was perfectly aware that this was pretty much the point of the entire weekend.

Actually, much of the run was done on autopilot as my conscious self switched off completely and the final miles passed almost by default. I made my way home fro a second time, did one loop around the house to make up the full 5 hoursin celebration, and stopped after well over 31 miles, about 51 km. My first ever back-to-back marathons (plus bonus miles) were done.

Surprisingly I was alive enough to do 90 minutes of gardening work later on, but called it a day before collapsing. I didn’t do any running on Monday morning and the legs, while stiff, are in reasonable condition. Cycling the 5 miles to work was surprisingly easy but after sitting at my desk for an hour or two my right achilles started acting up and was very sore for the rest of the day. I’ll have to see how this develops. Apart from that one twinge I feel perfectly fine, but somehow I don’t think the speed workouts are going to happen this week.

By the way, if you think of ultra running as a means to control your weight, think again. Both on Saturday and Sunday, for the rest of the day I kept eating anything in sight, and I was not picky. Carbs, proteins, fat, they all ended in my stomach. The only edible thing I managed to resist were the remains of Maia’s half-eaten apple from a few hours earlier, but only just.

Weekly Mileage: 92.3
Weekend Mileage: 58.27

Saturday: 1 tsp chia seeds, 1 bar, 1 Amino: ~ 275 calories
Sunday: 2 gels, 1 banana, 2 Amino: ~ 550 calories

7 Aug
26.59 miles, 4:01:19, 9:05 pace, HR 136
8 Aug
31.68 miles, 5:00:04, 9:28 pace, HR 133


  1. Bloody hell, well done. That is some serious mileage. I’m glad to see that your body is holding up... although not nearly as much as you, I’m looking forward to seeing how you respond on ‘the’ day.

  2. That seems more like work than fun but somebody has to do it right? I wonder how many calories you racked up after all that. No mention of liquid refreshments... Looking good!

  3. Ah, back to back long runs. Tried and true ultra workout that is popular for good reason. Well done.

  4. I'm still working on a back-to-back week ;)

    I've heard good and bad about Born to Run - must read it for myself one day.

  5. Thomas, I take my hat off to you....5 hours of running!?! How did you re-fuel after that run? Surely no amount of food will replace what you 'burned off'?