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Have you ever wondered what it’s like training for and running 100km?

Have you ever wondered what it’s like training for and running 100km?

Martin is a Foundation Run member who recently took on the 100km Taupo Ultra Marathon. Here’s how it went.

I recently completed the Taupo 100km Ultramarathon and have the opportunity to share my experience. Most blogs I read detailed nutrition and equipment but never really explained what it’s actually like to train for and run this distance.

All running distances create their own challenges to us but running a marathon and beyond presents its own trials mainly because it is a long way! Running 42.2km does require specific run training and also mental training for coping with the distance. So what about 100km which is nearly 2 and a half marathons, plus the terrain which in the case of the Taupo Ultramarathon is 88% off road?

My Training

All my training for the Taupo Ultramarathon 100km was completed with Foundation Run. In preparation for the technical aspects of the race (there was going to be hills involved) my strength training sessions were doubled to twice a week.  These sessions target running specific activities legs, core etc. as well as addressing individual areas that require strengthening.

The training included runs which replicated the terrain that would be involved in the actual race such as hills and trail terrain.  Lots of my training runs were carried out in the Redwoods in Rotorua but I never managed to run any of the actual course that I would run on race day, but it didn’t seem to matter.  I appreciate that this is a personal thing, some people insist on running as much of the course as possible and others like me are not bothered. In hindsight though, running the last part of the course might have helped but I’ll come back to that.

Other training runs are focused on speed, one of these sessions is held at either the athletic track or another suitable location on a Tuesday evening.  Here you are able to run with other Foundation Run members of all mixed abilities and also push yourself a bit further than you would do on your own.

A question I am frequently asked is “How far was your furthest run in training?” This is where the smart part of Foundation Run’s package comes in.  My furthest run was about 43km and longest run was nearly 6 hours; the 6 hours was only intended to be 5 hours but the terrain was far more technical than I expected and any trail runner will tell you that this happens occasionally. 

So although I “only” ran 43km, the next day I may be scheduled for another hour run so that I get the feeling of running on tired legs.  Initially you think that plan might not be achievable but sticking to the program increases your confidence that you can do it.  Admittedly not all runs go as well as expected but that is what running is all about, you have good days and bad days, they all go towards your own personal mental training.

The training is therefore quite varied with some tough weeks, easier weeks and also some very tough weeks but they all have a purpose and you really need to trust the training.  Training for a 100km race is quite daunting and in Foundation Run we have current members who have already run the distance and therefore offer a wealth of knowledge.  Rob, Marcel and Debbie were able to give me some useful advice on how to tackle the distance and more importantly give me confidence in being able to achieve the distance myself.

With race day approaching I took some nutrition and hydration advice from Emma at Focus on Food who looked at my current diet and offered some great advice for the rest of my training and for race day.  This was a necessity in my case as I had a particularly bad training run that saw me not so much as “hit the wall” but smash into “the wall” with the force of a Boxing day sale shopper with a new credit card.  I learnt a lot from that particular training run such as what it feels like when you are dehydrated and don’t take in enough calories; it’s not a pleasant feeling, trust me.

Race Day

At Foundation Run we had a number of members entering the Taupo Ultramarathon, Lisa had entered the 50km distance, Debbie and Craig the 74km and Leon and myself tackling the 100km race.  Rob was pacing Craig for the last 23km and Marcel was pacing Leon for his last 23km.  I didn’t have a pacer so I had to the pleasure of my own company which was OK, we’re still talking to each other.

I travelled down to Taupo on the day before the race so I could register and attend the compulsory race briefing which told us that the weather was going to cold and windy with a chance of snow at the 100km start line.  The 74km runners were told that due to weather conditions the boat ride had been cancelled and the course had been changed!

On the day of the race I awoke at 2:45am to have breakfast and get dressed, then my wife Jane took me to the bus in central Taupo for a 3:50am chilly departure.  The bus then collected more 100km runners at Whakaipo Bay which was the finish line and we could just make out the finish chute in the darkness as if it was laying down the challenge.  We arrived at the start line at 5:30am and had to stand around for 30 minutes in the cold so by the time 6:00am came around we were eager to start.  With headlights on we were all blinding each other as we formed up for the start. We listened to the the Maori Karakia and then the start hooter sounded.

In my head I was saying to myself “Go slow and steady just trust your training and enjoy the journey”.  I knew that this is where all the hard work will pay off, the hill work and those long weekend runs. The first part of the trail was awesome down to Waihaha bay, smooth trail, steady hills and after about an hour - daylight.

After a brief out and back loop we then turned onto farmland and paddocks, which turned out to be my least favourite running surface of the day as it was difficult to run at a steady rhythm, trying not to twist an ankle and coping with the slight incline which never seemed to end. 

Soon the farmland turned into sealed road and at this point I was chatting to another runner which was good from a mental aspect because the straight road seemed to go on forever. My new running buddy had run this part before so he could offer insight and some encouragement.  We made it to the next aid station and he left before me as he had a crew waiting for him to help.

We’re about 40km in now and I’ve been running for nearly 5 hours and my legs have been feeling tired for the last 10km. The next section consists of more roads which were ok for me, I quite like running on the road and my shoes, Hoka One One Stinson ATR’s had the perfect tread pattern for trail and road. 

A white van pulled up alongside me and the driver started shouting at me “Great form mate, fast cadence and low arm swing.  You’re doing great, keep it up”. No I don’t know who he was but this impromptu coaching advice was very welcome and put a spring in my step which took me to the next aid station which was the halfway point.  Here Jane and some other team members were here to meet me and Rob instantly goes to work on what I need, fills my water bottles up and repacks my running vest while Jane is giving me some rice pudding and sunscreen.

I head off down the airstrip with words of encouragement from everyone giving me a much needed morale boost. Over more farmland and then down to Kawakawa Bay which was mostly downhill trail, then on to Kinloch where we had to complete another out and back loop which dragged on for too long in my mind.  At the 77km point I had reached the Kinloch aid station where Jane was waiting again. At this point I was really feeling the fatigue and it is extremely tempting to say “That’s it, I’ve had enough” but I entered a 100km race and from the start line I had decided that that is what I was going to do. 

I had to knuckle down and get on with it.

The last 23km was the longest 23km that I have ever run! After a short section on local Kinloch streets, it’s a steady climb up to the Kinloch headland.  With lots of switch-backs, round the headland loop and struggling on legs that no longer wanted to run, this now became a mental struggle. 

My destroyed legs and the various pains around my body became superfluous as I battled with thoughts of “How much further, why the hell did I sign up for this, this is just nuts, where the hell is the finish and I’m never doing this again!”. This is where I needed a pacer, someone to take my mind off the pain and just to distract me from any negative thoughts.  Pacers were recommended for all 100km runners but as usual I thought that I knew better and ended up struggling more than I needed to.

We were advised during the race brief that the course under-reads on a GPS watch due to coverage and switch-backs but they didn’t tell us by how much.  As my watch approached 90km it went into battery save mode which blocks out 90% of the screen – great.  Guessing that I only had about 5-6km to go I felt better knowing that even if I had to walk the rest I would still finish. 

Only problem was that time was now actually defying the laws of physics and going slower, combined with multiple switch-backs it felt like I wasn’t making any progress. Here is where running this part in training may have helped give me an idea of the terrain and distances involved.

Just when I was losing hope I emerged from the bush section and then heard Rob shouting my name! That was a great feeling, I hadn’t spoken to anyone for hours (except myself) and Rob ran with me to the finish chute giving much needed encouragement and information on how far I had to go.

Before I knew it I could see Jane and friends at the finish chute cheering me on to the finish line which I ran across to my waiting glass medal. Immense relief and then the doctors weighed me and asked if I was feeling ok?  I thought it was a trick question so I answered “Yes I’m OK but my legs are a bit tired”, which seemed to be the right answer.

GPS reading was 95.19km, close enough for me and completed in 13 hours 34 minutes.

Finished!

We all analyse our own performance wondering how the race would have played out if we had done things differently. 

The only changes that I would make is ensuring that I had a pacer for the last 23km and running that part in training, other than that the 100km was more difficult than I imagined it would be. 

Ultimately, my training paid off and prepared me extremely well for the race.  The training is hard but I believe that the amount of effort that you put into the training is proportional to what you get out of it. Coaching, strength training and nutrition altogether are important components to achieving what initially seemed to be and unobtainable goal but Foundation Run made that possible.

The other Foundation Run members are always incredibly supportive and positive. All the team members who took part finished in very respectable times and deserve to be proud of what they have accomplished. Looking back on the race I am extremely proud of what I have achieved but wow, 100km is a long distance to run!

November 19, 2018

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