Increasing the Long Run

As part of my build towards Kepler Challenge and Tarawera 62km I will need to get a handle on how to manage my body over 5 hours, quite a step up from my previous area of proficiency in races around 2 hours long. Nutrition, pacing and cramp are the 3 main areas of interest for me as I push up the duration of my long runs to learn more about how my body responds. Here is a recap of today’s romp and what I have learned. Maybe you have had similar challenges?

Today I chose the Waitaks for my beating in the hope of learning more about my body just in time for Kepler in 3 weeks and I now sit here recovering and much wiser. I took a risk extending today’s long run beyond what my weekly progression had planned, which is a bit naughty, but just a one off and next week I’ll resume the planned progression rate designed to reduce my chance of injury. I’ve been comfortable with 2.5 to 3 hour long runs without nutrition earlier in the year and saw 4 hours with nutrition as a reasonable target for today.

Selfie #1 from bottom of Destruction Gully which runs straight into the sea. Now I’ve run every single track in the Waitakere Ranges!

The run started a bit rough with my energy feeling a bit low, unsure why, but the starting climb up Karamatura out of Hunia was a bit slow. I wasn’t phased at the time but once I got hungry only 1 hour in I decided not to take risks here and chowed down on half an Awaken bar and kept trucking on. Maybe I didn’t eat enough yesterday, or breakfast was too long ago, hard to say. I was still feeling weaker on the stunning but aggressive Omanwanui Trail, which was now concerning so I finished the Awaken bar and soaked up the fresh air on this stunning day, reminding myself to keep a steady pace and not push. It was about 20 minutes after this moment that I began feel better and much stronger on the hills, so maybe the energy was slowing getting to my legs, though much slower than the gels I’m used to using which hit me hard in 5 to 10 minutes compared to 40 minutes in this case.

Selfie #2 on the rugged ridgeline of Omanawanui

In fact, from here I was going quite strong for 2 hours, bouncing steadily up the long climbs and striding out well on the flat sections. At 3 hours I added a banana to the system and continued to tackle the climbs well, suggesting that today’s pacing was pretty good for longevity, although I was aware that race day would demand an extra hour from me. Close on 4 hours, and still on technical trails, I was relieved to notice no cramp setting in. This suggests that all the cramp troubles I have had in races, mainly in my calves, are more a function of intensity and less about duration.

It was here that I suddenly hit the wall, after feeling stable – not bouncing off the walls, but at least stable – for hours. The final decent down Fletcher was very rough, with me stumbling around like a drunk and feeling just as light headed. Glycogen had left the system! And I was reduced to a shuffle, how embarrassing! Although not far from the car, the technical nature of Fletcher had me down to a snail’s pace through concerns of pushing into a more trance like state.

I basically inhaled all my post-session food as soon as I got to the car, but I still felt light headed, a feeling I’m not used to even in the context of hard races like The Hillary 34km. My stomach was also unhappy with my attempt to get as much down my throat as possible and I was pretty uncomfortable for a few hours. I hear a lot about ultra runners having stomach problems, and this has sparked some interest to dig into other’s experience around this issue.

Now I sleep.

Introducing the Terrain Box

What if you could learn the skill of contour reading without leaving the house? What if you could play God and create your own terrain and map simultaneously? Introducing the AR Sandbox! But this time it’s the Terrain Box.

The AR Sandbox is a relatively simple augmented reality (AR) system which maps a small sandpit in real-time and draws the map onto the sand surface itself. In this blog I want to share just a brief overview, but later on I will go into more detail about how the whole system works.

My vision was to provide an interactive and intuitive experience for learning how to read contours. For me, reading contours is one of the hardest skills to successfully communicate when coaching and I believe a tool like this could be a huge help in making this process much easier for coaches and more impactful for learners.

Everyone getting involved with the Terrain Box displaying a coloured height map

The research behind this project was done at UC Davis, California, with intended applications focused on geographic concepts such as how to read a topographic map, the meaning of contour lines, watersheds, catchment areas and levees. While the water flow functionality is mesmerisingly cool, my focus was obviously on the contours. All the necessary software is publicly available and suggestions on the physical arrangement are also provided online, but these are dependent on how big you want the box to be and the specific projector being used. While the basic information provided is sufficient for making an AR Sandbox for a classroom or museum, I had some bonus challenges to overcome. I wanted to make my version portable so I’ve made the frame (the upper part that holds the camera and projector over the box) easily removable and my box has handles. Foam is also available to build up higher hills without needing to weigh the box down with more heavy sand. The sand it’s self is very white and very fine, perfect for displaying a vivid image and building smooth shapes.

Using the coloured height map as an introductions to contours

I gave the Terrain Box its first outing at NZ Champs a few weeks back, set up at the NWOC accommodation. It got a lot of use (80ish people) over the 2 evenings it was set up for. It was great to see all the juniors get stuck in, but I was most excited to see the engagement from the adults in our club, many of whom have been dragged into orienteering by their children and skimmed through a lot of the important foundational learning around how to read contours. I now see the Terrain Box’s best value in unwinding the habits of many senior orienteers and giving them a second chance to get the fundamentals right.

The clean look with colours removed makes the Terrain Box a navigation-specific tool purely for connecting contours on 2D maps to the land forms of the real 3D world

The next step is to make a progression of exercises, starting from very easy, like a single large hill, to very hard, like numerous small features on a slope, where the objective is to read the map and create the terrain while using the Terrain Box to check your work as you build the land forms. Setting up the exercises in reverse is also an interesting idea and should generate a lot of appreciation for the challenge professional mappers face in creating some of our wonderful maps.

Its second showing will be at a work event where people share home projects with their colleagues and then its third at the NWOC end of year prize giving. I aim to bring it to the forest next year and I’m open to more suggestions around how to get maximum use out of this new toy. Also get in touch if you are thinking of building our own.