How not to prepare for a 100 mile race

Not a good look the day before a 100 miler
Not a good look the day before a 100 miler

 

To repeat the same mistake over and over again expecting a different outcome is the definition of madness, someone once said. Which is why I have now decided on not signing up for the Thames Path 100 (mile) race again in 2015.

For those not usually following this blog, my big goal race this year was the TP100, a 100 mile foot race between London and Oxford, organized by Centurion Running in early May. I spent the whole of last autumn and winter preparing for this race, reading ultra running blogs, putting together a training plan, and buying and testing new equipment. Then, a month before the the TP100, I injured my knee. Suddenly I couldn’t run longer than 2-3 miles, how was I going to get through 100 miles? Long story short – I didn’t. I did get halfway though, which on  the day felt like a victory. I also really liked the course, the atmosphere, and  the organization of the race. The first weeks after the TP I wondered if maybe I would have physically been able to finish, and thought that maybe I hadn’t tried hard enough. I started checking Centurion’s web page daily – had the registration for next year started yet?

The Thames Path 100 - top race, but at the wrong time of the year for me
The Thames Path 100 – top race, but at the wrong time of the year for me

And now, a few weeks later I have changed my mind. The TP is not for me, at least not next year. I will however have a 100 miler as my big goal next year too, it will just be a different one.

In the last three years my big goal races have all been in spring, forcing me to train through the Norwegian winter (this has been deliberate). The Thames Path was no exception, being in early May, and 6 months being the recommended minimum preparation time for such a distance. However, this time my previously successful tactic was maybe my downfall?

One piece of advice successful 100 mile runners often gives is to sign up for marathons and shorter ultras during the training period, using them as long training runs. Good advice I thought, as I expected that motivating myself for 5-8 hour long training runs by myself in the depth of the Norwegian winter would be hard. Unfortunately, I discovered that in Norway there is a 4 month hiatus in the Norwegian marathon- and ultrarunning calendar from December to April. Last winter was not too bad weatherwise, as Norwegian winters go. I didn’t have any episodes of disceovering mid-long run that fluids and energy gels had frozen, or not being able to unlock my front door because my arms were numb from my shoulders down, never returned with isicles in my eylashes. Still, there were more than one occasion where my long run was cut short due to being cold and miserable, or just never happened because it was so much more tempting to stay inside with some hot chocolate and a book. No one I know had been mad enough to enter a 100 miler, so I didn’t have a training partner who could drag me along, just a lot of people teling me I was nuts.

If only all winter runs had such nice weather...
If only all winter runs had such nice weather…

Even though I did not follow my training plan to the letter, I was still routinely running 100km+ a week, peaking in March. As I am a group fitness instructor and personal trainer, the most intense training period thus coincided with the busiest time of the year at work.  I had made sure to divide my training plan up into micro- and mesocycles, with an easy week every three weeks, and tapering before and after races. However, recovery or taper weeks simply meant I cut back on my running. I still had to teach my classes, and most weeks somebody else’s too, and demonstrate squats and lunges repeatedly each day at work, working through tiredness and pain. Something had to give, and unfortunatley it was first my strength training routine, and then my knee. (I’m convinced the two are connected.)

Exactly one month before my first 100 miler, I stood on the starting line in the Norwegian 100km ultrarunning championships, the only ultrarace I had been able to find in Norway this side of Christmas. I knew that a one month recovery period between a 100k and a 100 miler was cutting it fine, so should I hold back and take it easy, or try for a medal as some of my fellow runners were encouraging me to do? The race medics made the decision for me, pulling me out of the race at 46k after finding me doubled up in pain an crying on the side of the road.

The only good thing about DNF-ing the TP in early May was that this enabled me to participate in my favourite marathon three weeks later, a tough road race up in the mountains which I thought I would not be able to recover in time for. However, Norway’s (and Europe’s?) biggest relay race the weekend after the TP was missed due to the injury and lack of recovery, which I really regretted since my team had qualified for the women’s elite class.

There's a silver ining, DNF-ing the TP meant I could run this race (Suleskar Maraton)
There’s always a silver lining, DNF-ing the TP meant I could run this race (Suleskar Maraton)

So, despite the TP being a great course and a really well organize race, I realised that signing up for next year too will mean another winter and spring facing exactly the same problems, mistakes, and  grievances as this year, with another failure as a possible outcome. The solution is simple – The North Downs 100 in August 2015. It’s the same organizers, meaning the quality of the race will be just as good . I will also get to see scenery I haven’t seen before (true, I haven’t run the TP between Henley and Oxford, but I’m going to venture a guess that it’s not that much different from the TP between Richmond and Henley), and encounter more hills (<3) an a more traily course.

Having a goal race in August still means I have to start my training during the winter, but it will be the lower mileage basebuilding period that will coincide with the dark nights and busy-busy time at work. I will also have time to include an off-season period before starting the 100 miler preparations, where I can focus on my strength and flexibility. As my mileage increases the days gets lighter, the temperature rises, the snow and ice melts, giving me more runnable routes to choose from. Hopefully those long, long weekend runs will coincide with that sunny, warm weather which makes me long to go running.  I can have another go at a medal in the Norwegian 100k championships in April without worrying about insufficient recovery, and I can help my team in the relay in May. Also, I will not have to sacrifice my favourite springtime races because I need to taper for/recover from my 100 miler, I can run Suleskar Marathon back to back with the 7 hill run, or maybe the 50 miler in the forests of the East of Norway organized the same weekend. June is an ultrarunner’s fun season, with loads of epic races to choose from.  I can use some of the races on my bucket list to build fitness and test gear. With things going quiet at work there will be the opportunity for some real rest and recovery when my raining load peaks, and the taper period will coincide with my summer  holiday (and my annual hiking trip in the Norwegian mountains).

Signing up for the Thames Path was a spur of the moment decision last year, after clicking on a link posted on Facebook. Had I mulled it over for a few days I probably would have realised all those things I’ve mentioned above. Or maybe not… Maybe I needed to get a pain in my knee to realise that there are lots of factors that should be considered before signing up for a 100 mile race? Having made this mistake this time will helpfully make me make wiser decisions in the future, and help the runners I coach avoid making similar mistakes for themselves?

If at first you don’t succeed, you probably learn a lot.

Now excuse me while I head over to Centurion Running and press F5 in case the registration for next year’s races have opened.

 

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