I don’t know if I was out of my mind when merely after two marathons, I put myself down for an ultramarathon. Or maybe I was simply looking for a bigger challenge. Or maybe a bit of both! Putting that aside, the news is that I signed up for the 105k Canberra trail ultramarathon. The good thing: it’s in October this year so I have 30+ weeks to train. The not-so-good thing: I’ve never gone beyond the marathon distance i.e. 42.2k (yet).
Finding a training program for ultra is probably more difficult than a marathon, plainly because of the unpopularity factor. The old and wise training advice are along the lines of “spend more time on your feet” and “do more long runs”. But what about other days? I consulted a few of my running club friends who have done ultras, studied the existing programs (for example: Surf Coast Century 100k, some wikipedia styled pages etc.). I took in bits from everywhere and created a formal plan for myself. I don’t have anything scheduled for all the 30 weeks but I do know what I am doing this week. Based on this week’s progress, I’ll plan the next one (also taking in considerations other commitments). My training plan is a mixture of running, cross-training, a bit of body-weight workouts and more importantly, enough rest.
How did the week go?
Running-wise, it was a pretty good start. 1 easy run (D1), 1 fartlek (D3), 1 long run (D5) and a longer run (D7) for the week.
The long runs were 22k (2 hours) and 26.2k (2:12 hours) with which I am pretty happy given that I could run at a good pace comfortably. Sunday run was on a really windy day and I liked the challenge of those gushes. Some things to remember for the future: no sugar bars for nutrition (not so good in the mouth after eating), avoid over-hydration (belly starts to hurt). Dates seem to be good and I’d experiment further with them. Mashed potatoes for next week.
The fartlek session I’d do throughout my training would be Mona fartlek as it would provide an indication of the overall fitness and running speeds. This week, I did 5.12k in 20 minutes.
During my easy run, I listened to a few podcasts while it was still dark outside. Weekly mileage: 69k.
Cross-training? It had been a combination of cycling, swimming and badminton. I spent 30 minutes in a cycling group fitness class on D2 and rode a total of 36k on D4 in two sessions. If you have known me, then you might know that I can not swim and that’s why when I said I swam, it simply meant I tried to (with a kickboard). I swam on D3 and D5. The last bit was an easy hour of badminton on D1. Basically, I am mixing easy days of running with some easy non-running activity (which I am hoping would enhance my overall fitness) and when I am not running, then I am pushing slightly harder on these non-running activities.
Finally, on D2, I did some body-weight based exercises for the core muscles. There are plenty of apps for this and I am using the one called Home Workout. It was approximately a 20 minute session that included crunches, planks, some sort of twists etc. Too many names to remember!
It’s been a while since I posted anything here. And no, I am not sorry, I am simply a bit lazy 😉 During this break, I ran another marathon (in 3:43), improved my 5k timing to 18:43 and more importantly, started to explore another interests. I did a couple of trips that included biking and/or camping and/or hiking.
I planned this trip for the new year’s eve! The idea was NOT to stay in the city for any sort of fancy fireworks and just to give myself a getaway. Yes, it was a solo trip! Thanks to the public transport of the state, it was free from 6 PM to 6 AM which allowed me to think beyond the near-to-the-city options. My original plan was:
Arrive at the nearest train station (Moe, it’s not pronounced as Joe, it’s rather Mo-ee) from where I’ll ride to the base-camp (approx. 38k). Thereafter I will hike to the summit of Mt. Erica (which is basically a part of Baw Baw plateau). My plan was to do it overnight! (I was crazy as it turned out).
I arrived at the Moe station around 8.30 PM and the first part of ride was pretty neat with occasional uphills. The overall elevation gain (including the downs and then ups) was around 800 meters for the planned bike ride. Only when I was riding the tougher sections in the dark, I realized that these hills are gonna suck the bejesus out of me. I should point it out here that I was riding with all the camping equipment and my supplies. The thighs were getting tighter and the night, darker and silent. I heard my breaths, and the occasional sounds from the nearby forest. It was around 11:30 when I reached the town of Erica (at 30k mark) and decided to camp there.
At the start!
Just getting around the little Moe town
Riding along the fields
6k into the trip. Many more to go
The dusk is over me. Taking a break from some hill
Set up at night, get up at sight 😉
The next morning, I packed my stuff and I was ready to roll the next 7 or so kilometers that would take me to the base camp. My original plan had been shattered but it was for good. The ride was not much difficult except for the last part when it turns on an all-gravel road which is not at all ideal for my bike. I walked this segment to finally arrive at the campground where I parked my bike and got ready for the hike, FINALLY!
Packed everything? Now get the hell out of here.
Breakfast stop! Need fuel.
That’s the damn thing over there.
Not too far now, is it? Or is it?
That’s the way to the campsite!
We are here. And no-one else is.
Picnic table? Yes. This must be the place where I can die.
I put everything in the backpack, wore full sleeves and I was ready to roll. The hike was a fair 12k with an elevation gain of about a kilometer. However, the important bit was to be aware about the wildlife, be mindful of the many logs that were fallen on the track and to just keep going. The first part of hike was from campsite to a carpark. This was through the lovely rain-forest where occasionally I’d see some wildlife. It was hot during the day and with the load on my back, it was not getting easier either. Nevertheless, the first part was over with some breaks in between. I stopped at the carpark to get some food (I was carrying with me canned beans which served my lunch and later, dinner). I was on my feet again to cover the final ground which now was a little bit more steep, yet human sighting was plenty (thanks to carpark). It took me around 3.5 hours for the entire hike.
I was fortunate to find some very-old members of the Melbourne Uni Mountaineering Club on the trail (who graduated in 1960s or so). They were kind enough to offer me a ride back to the campsite as were headed in the same way. I was a bit afraid that if I hike back down, I might be late to set-up the tents (perhaps I was right as it was 4:30-ish already). In no time, I was back where I started the hike. My locked-up bike was still there. The campground was still empty when I put my tents. I spent the night there under the trees and the sky. It rained slowly for a couple of hours after midnight before I finally took off on my bike with bag empty on supplies, but full of adventure and it’s memory 🙂
A good night sleep, but I need to take a bath now!
Everything packed again.
Oh lovely morning. Cold.
On my way back. Stopped to pee here in the open. No one cares.
The idea of running in the You Yangs probably stemmed when I came across a well organized ultramarathon at the same venue but never took a proper shape until last week.
September 10, 2014: I ran my first trail race ever and it was hard. Running and hiking approx. 23k among the trails of Anglesea took me a little more than 2 hours (2:04). I was surprised by the kind of challenges that one can face during a trail race. I have never been much of a hill runner and therefore elevations (the highs and the lows of the course) were the first thing to pop in my mind. But probably the most difficult part was the terrain of which I had no idea would play such a critical role. I was happy to get done with the event and took the train back home. And then it happened.
I was looking out of the window, tired and dusted when I came across this.
It was beautiful. Those peaks in the background looked appealing. I was broken but my spirits were high. To make myself comfortable with the rigor of hill running, I need to run with them. And that’s when I thought that I will come here next weekend, no matter what.
I looked more about the YY on internet. I had a look on the routes that people usually follow and the routes that constituted the ultramarathon. With all that information and some of the maps, I came up with my own route that would start from the train station (because I use public transport), wander among YY and came back at the station.
September 16, 2017: As per the plan, I started at around 8 AM. I had a backpack which contained water and some energy bars and gels, in case if I go down on energy. I took in my phone with an offline map of the park installed in it, just in case if I have problems to navigate. And that was it.
Overall, the terrain was challenging. I came across some mountain bikers (as this park is exclusive for them with a lot of biking trails). The most difficult was to get to the top of Flinders peak (the highest point). It included a lot of stairs and a narrow trail. I had to stop a million times to catch my breath and to run back again. However, the view from the top was worth it.
I rested for a couple of minutes on the top, had my lunch (aka a gel and a bar) before finally getting up on my feet and ran down the peak. From that point onward, I kept running because time was crucial. The frequency of trains back to the city was less and I could not risk to get late. Fortunately, I got within 5 minutes of the train arrival time and made it back home on time.
About the event: The event is called Sri Chinmoy Princess Park Winter Running Festival. If you don’t know about it, Sri Chinmoy was a spiritual guru who promoted the idea of transcendence through sports and athletics. The usual pattern of their races can be called running in circles. In this particular event held in Princess Park, Melbourne, participants were meant to run around a 5k loop. The event was held in multiple categories: 5k 10k, Half-marathon, 30k and the marathon. For the marathon and the half-marathon, there were provision of extra 2.2k and 1.1k at the start apart from running 8 laps and 4 laps respectively.
I will break down my experience in four parts i.e. the first 10k, and the next, and the next, and the final 12.2k. So, if you are particularly interested at the end, just scroll down. Otherwise, I won’t make it too lengthy anyway.
My expectations: I wanted to finish the marathon. I wanted to be called a marathoner. And therefore my expectations were a lot of hurdles, specially mental. Probably some black toe-nails and blisters if I am lucky. But most importantly, to finish, just to finish.
The first breezy 10k: As with my other races where I ran too fast at the start, I did not want that to happen here because it was a long run, a really long one. I held myself within 5 minute per k pace. I thought this pace could be sustainable in a long run and I could run faster towards the end. I made myself comfortable with the race. En route, I looked around the course, enjoyed the beautiful morning, said my thank-you to all the volunteers I could. Perhaps I stopped twice for water at the aid-stations (I had read and heard this a million times that proper hydration would prevent cramps).
The journey to 20: I was still swaying at my easy pace after the 10k mark. I gulped down some Gatorade on the next station at 12k mark and thereafter, I had to take a pee break during the next kilometer. My gloves were really holding up well as I realised on stopping that the temperatures were not very high. The journey continued after the restroom until the 20k mark. People were recognising me from the club T-shirt I was wearing. Though nobody knew my name but many boosted me up by their going good TXR, TXR you can do it etc. A good-vibe sensation passed through me as I felt a sense of oneness.
Beyond the half-marathon: It was not my first time running beyond a half-marathon or a 25k marker but this time was very different. The half-marathon marker brought with itself some sense of hurt and self-doubt. This was where the other part of mind which says you should not be running, let’s finish this and train better for the next one came into play. My last two weeks had been significantly dull with lack of training. My body was still in the process of recovery. All these factors just gave my mind more and more excuses to go towards a DNF (did not finish). During the fifth lap, I was very much convinced by it and was thinking to go towards the finish line rather than for the next loop (the two were located side by side). And then came my saviours! People! Yes, people! Runners!
A woman who was running behind me in the earlier stages ran past me when I had resorted to walking and said “We’re almost there”. Of course we were not, I thought. God damn it, there are three more laps. I don’t know what happened within me but the decision whether to go for a finish (or more precisely a DNF) or the next loop went in favour of the next loop. I stopped at the aid-station to load in more Gatorade and water and ran towards her. I told her about me, and she about herself. Her family had come over to support her and then I missed mine. I ran with her for a while and then asked her to continue as I was walking again. I thought that was the last loop I could do.
Running WITH the mind: I was walking for a long way with occasional jogs in between. Honestly, I did not know why I was jogging as my mind had given up. Perhaps I just wanted to rush to the finish line and call it a day. I was already going way beyond my longest run till date (30k) and was venturing into an unknown territory. I was walking again with the firm determination to just complete this lap and train better for the next one (marathon).
And then it happened again! He said “TXR, we are going to make it! Stay strong”. I don’t know who he was, but we high-fived and I was running again. I was not too sure as to why I was running again but I found out I could still run, though not for long at a time. I exchanged smiles with the woman I met earlier and told her that the game is still on. The plan was simple, run if you can, walk for a while. The next (and the final) decision between the finish line and the next loop was not difficult now.
In the final lap, I met this guy who was running in his 221st marathon (MAN THIS IS CRAZY). We talked about himself during the lap. We were both run-walking the final lap with occasionally passing each other. I experienced hamstring cramps while I was running. So when I got them, I walked. And then I ran again. And walked. But I didn’t stop. The finish line was coming closer (yeah not the DNF line anymore). I, once again, crossed the same guy who had previously lifted my spirits up and he said “TXR, we are almost there” and we high-fived and I shouted at the loudest of my voice “Keep going“. For the last kilometer, I stayed with the 221 marathon guy and he finished ahead of me. A last-second cramp got me standing at the finish line but I finished running. It’s hard to explain the moment but I was proud and blown away by the immensity of the mind (also, it’s pessimism). I finished just under 3:56 and here are some photos/details:
What a wonderful journey it has been! What an immense amount of support I have got from you, readers. I just want to take a little moment here and say a BIG THANK YOU!
THE RACE MAY BE OVER, BUT THE TRAINING NEVER STOPS!
With this, I think I should stop talking and let you continue your training and if you are doing your first marathon or a half or a 10k or a 5k or even an ultra, I would finish this post with this one piece of advice you might have heard a thousand times before:
You are way beyond the limitations of your mind. Listen to what it says and do what you should.
I am excited as to what is gonna happen tomorrow. Some plans and numbers are going through my head but the target is pretty simple, to make it to the finish line.
I do not have any pre-race rituals or routines. I’m just keeping it easy for today, no hardcore training (I probably can’t even because of the runny nose). I went for a little walk just to clear my head where I listened to a Human Race podcast. My clothes are all set to be worn tomorrow. The race starts at 7 so I have to leave home by 5 to make it on time for the train station. Getting up early would be really challenging (because sleeping itself could be a little challenging).
Since it’s gonna be cold (around 10-12 degrees), I would be wearing three layers on the top and two on the bottom (excluding the inner wears). Gloves and head-cap would be an add-on to survive the cold.
I am all set to take on what had started as a thought two months ago. It had been a nice experience documenting my journey. I am grateful for all who took the time out to have a look at my posts every once a while and appreciated my effort. Till then, let me go out for a run and I’ll be back with all the details 🙂
My maximum distance so far is just over 30k. I have a huge ground to cover before calling it a marathon.
At first, it might seem like a self-doubt, but I don’t take it that way. These are simply the facts which are true. Accepting them makes me feel better! I knew it was not gonna be easy and there are always some setbacks waiting for you but it’s you who have to decide whether it is comfortable in staying down with your back pinned against the ground or to get up and give it all that’s left.
Out of these four days, I tested my body twice. Tuesday, I went for a short 3.5k to check if my body was capable of holding well. It was definitely not. I ran slow. I had to push. Signs that recovery is still on the way.
Thursday, I checked myself again. This time 7k. Easy and hard combined. And felt good. Yes I am still under the influence of cold so I need to wipe my nose every now and then but that is definitely not a problem for running.
Friday, I am taking yet another day of rest. Saturday, I will go for a short run to do a final check.
There were plans for the Friday night (a really long run before the event) and the weekend (to get to Mount buller and have some fun in the snow) but things don’t always go as you plan. Thanks to the crappy Thursday, I had to settle on some humble plans.
My bag was packed Friday night in case I would feel better the next morning to go to Mt. buller but I didn’t. I was over 100 degrees in the morning and decided it would be wiser to just stay home. My daily step counter also suffered a huge blow and so did my marathon training. I definitely am going to be a little (may be more than a little) under-trained for this marathon.
It’s Sunday today and the meds seem to work. I am really hoping to get better by tomorrow so that I could give a final boost to this journey before entering the arena 😉