One of the many books my kids never tire of having read to them is one about the driver of a little toy train who has to collect Mrs. Bear, Mr. Elephant and Mrs. Walrus, take them to town and then collect them and their shopping (lots of honey & bread, fruit and fish) and take them safely home.
As he frets and frets about the enormity of his task and how it all seems impossible for him and his little train the bear, elephant and walrus tell him to take a chill pill and remind him that it’s all a question of balance.
Eventually the train does crash but only because elephant inhales a bee. Something you could never foresee.
After my near-death Captain Oates moments on the side of a Wicklow Hill about 10 days ago I am now at a point where I can assess my preparation for the WHW and how my balance between not turning up at the starting line (over-training injury) and finishing in a time that will be impressive to non-runners (training enough) is getting on.
When I first decided to enter this race I had broken the challenge into several distinct boxes and decided to see how much work I’d need to do to each of them in order to make a go of it. In no particular order the boxes are:
Most people (who run these ultra marathons) will tell you that you use your head to run them once your body gives up. How do you do that I hear you ask. Well, If you think the task is impossible then it will become impossible. The trick is to deal with what you can control and manage that (the next mile of the race for example) and try and release the things beyond your control. All very zen and at peace with the world. If you are more Woody Allen than Rainier Wolfcastle this becomes a problem for you as you are constantly struck by the absurdity of your endeavour.
My first two outings of the year – the back to back marathons and the Wicklow way ultra- were supposed to test this aspect of my character. Would I be reduced to a quivering mess of snot and tears looking for a lift home because my leg had fallen off? I felt frightened on the Wicklow way ultra climbing into the snow with frozen feet but I never lost faith in my belief that I could complete the task. Similarly I had a few walking breaks on the second marathon in February but all it did was extend my time to completion by a few minutes and not force me to withdraw.
I think my spaniel enthusiasm (or stupidity) allows me to not dwell on this aspect of the preparation and, coupled with the knowledge that many have completed it before me, makes me feel that I’m in fair shape with my mental attitude to the training and race.
No so good. I know I can’t eat rice crispie squares and energy gels and drink flat coke for 24 hours but I haven’t got an alternative yet.
When I think about something semi-savoury I think about cheese sandwiches and sweet tea or coffee or a few jaffa cakes or bread and jam and cereal bars. (basically food that I’d eat if you put me in the back garden digging a flower bed for the afternoon). I’m not sure if this is enough or should I be testing other foods that don’t appeal to me now. I need to work on this one so that I don’t end up on a food-less death march. My mantra is a little food often and I have to think about having enough variety to make this sustainable. When you’re fully associated with the task in hand (the running of the current mile) it’s very hard to break out of this and project your future nutritional needs so that you think, yes, take a gel now as there’s a steep hill in 2 miles time.
I think that the strategy that will unfold will be something along the lines of
- support crew and arranged pit-stops for decent solid food and
- back pack and pockets for energy snacks.
Then all I’ll need to do is to ensure that the pit-stops have appropriate food (breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks and so forth).
No the baby making equipment but the gear that will carry me over the 95 miles. I’m slow/old enough to know that the tee-shirt, shorts and backpack don’t need to be cutting edge and I expect I’ll just use a selection of what’s worked for me in the past. No point in re-inventing the wheel only to find out it doesn’t work. From my Wicklow Way Ultra I’m also fairly satisfied with my choice of socks – the dry-max trail ultra ones seemed to work fine. I’ll bring some tape/compeed/other socks so I don’t end up stranded for some pointless reason.
My Garmin (405) has never performed beyond 38 miles so I don’t know whether to bring it or just take a cheap Aldi HR watch that’ll go all day.
The big issue for me is shoes. I’ve just come to the end of a pair of NB1080v2s that have proved themselves tough, butch and durable on roads but as camp as a row of tents when it comes to trails. The soles of them after the Wicklow Way Ultra make them look like the shoes of choice for a man who uses baler twine to hold up his pants and shouts at cars.
I had mentally penned a strongly worded letter to the good people at New Balance on the performance of their flagship cushioned shoe (their words, not mine) when I checked the mileage on them. They had clocked up about 620 miles so I shredded the virtual letter and just regretted having lost a pair of summer loafing about shoes.
I’ve been sorely tempted by the brothel creeper world of Hokas. The attraction of walking (and possibly) running on giant springy mattresses is almost too tempting and while I know it will make me no faster it will make me less sore (which will, in a way, make me faster). Only the wise words of Andy Cole have seen me safe and kept the £125 in my wallet.
Instead I’ve opted for a pair of New Balance 1210’s (called the Leadville) which are currently moving from some internet warehouse to my post box . As I know the NB shoe last works for me I’m comfortable buying them blind from the net. All I need now are some long trails with which to try them out.
They will be the biggest gamble but if they work I’ll be confident that I’ll have the right gear on the day. That said, the temptation to geek out and spend all my money on some useless load of shite is never far away.
When it comes to the body I reckon you can break it down into two distinct categories:
- Engine (Heart & Lungs/CV system/call it what you will).
- Transmission (The chassis, the legs, the bit that moves you about).
The engine is fine. It’s neither a high efficiency low capacity diesel nor a high capacity gas guzzling Chevy small block V8 (I don’t even know that that means). It’s like a 1.4l Golf. Fine.
Provided I don’t over rev it it will get the job done.
The transmission – the legs?
Banjaxed is the best description of them. They will be my Achilles Heel (and foot, calf, knee, quad, hamstring, hip and lower back) and are the most likely cause of my potential failure to complete the course. I doubt that I’m the first to realise this and if I can create a strategy around it I should be able to make it through the event.
Normal training (on a weekly basis and when not injured or carrying some sort of a niggle) consists of one medium long run (7-12 miles, 1 – 1.45 hours), one long run (13-24 miles, 2 – 4 hours) with the other days filled with aerobic runs of 4 – 6 miles.
I think I need to do two things: Firstly, drop the stuff that will add the least to my training so that I get specific training (for me this would be to drop some or all of the shorter stuff which can be replaced with cycling to work and other non-impact aerobic exercises) and secondly to not get stressed out if I miss any training due to niggles and injuries.
Sounds simple doesn’t it? Well, as a man who generally keeps training and running until I can barely walk it will be a herculean task to stick to this strategy. For the non-runners amongst you the missing or skipping of a scheduled training run is like a recovering junkie missing their methadone clinic. Not life threatening but it does make them a stressed out grumpy fucker until they get their next hit.
So that’s where we are now – all a question of balance.
As long as the bee doesn’t fly up my trunk it’ll be fine.