Training for my first ultra – Week 1

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).

Training plan

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!

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As it happened, My First Marathon

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 TXRTXR you can do it etcA 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:

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First lap = 2.2k. Subsequent laps = 5k.
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Am I technically a ultra-runner? 😀
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Earned it!

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.