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.

Another Course Record at The Hillary

From Piha to Muriwai up the West Coast

From Piha to Muriwai up the West Coast

My 3rd and final race trail race this summer was The Hillary 34km from Piha to Muriwai up Auckland’s beautifully rugged west coast. These are my home trails and although I don’t run them all that frequently (since there are so many to choose from in the Auckland region!) there is a strong sense of nostalgia coming back to these trails in a race and revisiting the hills I learned to suffer on when I was younger. The finish, especially, delivers overwhelming nostalgia as I practically spent my youth at this beach.

The past month has been good for me, with an overload week at a training camp in Central Otago followed by 2 weeks back in the routine to deliver me to today’s performance. A massage at Sports Lab earlier in the week was also crucial to improving my mechanics as my back and hamstrings had tightened up big-time after my overload week. I’m a big fan of their work and looking forward to my next visit. I was open minded about my chances of tickling Andrius’ course record because I knew my form was good, but with no specific taper I could have just as easily been too tired to deliver on the day.

Lovely spot, but that’s not what I had on my mind at the time. Photo cred: James Kuegler

Lovely spot, but that’s not what I had on my mind at the time. Photo cred: James Kuegler

I chose the light and grippy Icebug Zeals again, my favourite shoes for longer races and firm but technical trail surfaces. I started this race, pre-soaked and with soft flasks for easy refilling at aid stations, determined not to dehydrate like last year. I started conservatively along Piha Beach, as I usually do at the start of a long race, and I kept my intensity dialled back up White Track out of Piha too. It was clear I was going faster than last year already and that no one was going to join me at the front so I knew from pretty early on that I was just going to have to wait until Bethells Beach to know what would become of me in the latter part of the race.

A very varied profile can make pacing a challenge

A very varied profile can make pacing a challenge

The 2nd and 3rd climbs in this race are steep ones on the Kuataika Track and I was sure to listen carefully to my body. I knew I felt good and wanted to push harder, but at the same time the memory of bonking so far from the finish last year was still quite raw, and I found a happy balance. My heart rate was also creeping up a bit higher than I expected and it’s hard to say how much of this was as a result of the heat and how much was from me running faster than expected. I knew I was up on the record and this was hard to not get excited about. I took the time to wet my face and head from streams where it was possible, and took on 1 litre of water at the Bethells Beach aid station on top of what I drank during my half minute there. 4:56 min/km was my pace up to this point

I was still feeling strong on the first hill of the Te Henga Walkway, but any excitement I had about been on a record breaking run was silenced as I struggled to maintain my bounce up the next climb out of O’Neill Bay. I felt like the record would slip from grasp for sure and I watched my average pace drift out with each short pinch, of which there are many on this aggressive section of trail!

The stunning Te Henga Walkway (on a previous run) suits and an aggressive runner, but not one who has started too hard

The stunning Te Henga Walkway (on a previous run) suits and an aggressive runner, but not one who has started too hard

The last climb on the Te Henga Walkway is a very steep set of stairs and I could feel my energy fading, despite taking 4 energy gels during the race. I took on more water at the aid station here, and stopped to stretch a few muscles which were cramping periodically – this is a technique that seems to work for me and I expect it has the effect of reducing the residual activation level of the muscles. This allowed me to use my calves a little more to improve my efficiency along the road towards Muriwai, but being unable to lift my pace faster than 4 mins/km was a little disappointing and I was constantly redoing the maths to predict if I was still below record pace …and I was!

At some stage, after feeling relatively relaxed for the first half of the race, I had really begun to suffer. I wasn’t sure when this started, but along road towards Muriwai I was really hurting. I was going slower than I should have for the effort I was putting in, but it was still enough to get down to the beach and to the finish in 2:44:54. I’m very happy with this time, and putting 3 minutes onto the race record was a confirmation of my recent improvements.

Stop the clock!

Stop the clock!

Once again, Icebug NZ and Sports Lab, stoked I could land the result for you guys! And special thanks for my parents for coming along for the day.

I now have 7 weeks of training with no long races to maximise consistency before my A-goal of Oceania Orienteering Champs.

Local race means Mum and Dad at the finish, and it was very cool to see them at half way too

Local race means Mum and Dad at the finish, and it was very cool to see them at half way too