This is my last post on this blog! How exciting ... and yet also how sad, because it means that the focus of the last ten weeks is truly over. Ah well. Better start planning for the JCC in March then eh?!
Like I keep wittering on about throughout this blog, every person's experience is so different that you can't learn loads from other people. However, here's what I've learned through this process in case it helps anyone!
- You spend A LOT of time with yourself training for an ultra. Seriously a LOT. Six or seven hours at a time, just in your own head. Be prepared - if you're anything like me, it's a strange place in there.
- You also spend a lot of time thinking about being tired. I found that I was constantly either knackered, or worrying about being knackered.
- People all have an opinion ... ranging from "You're a total idiot" to "You're amazing" to "Stay where you are, I'm having you committed". Most of these things have a little truth, but they're all tempered by the side of the coin that people don't see. I'm not that stupid, and I'm definitely not amazing. I probably should have listened to the ones who tried to have me sectioned though.
- You can't really follow someone else's training plan for an ultra too slavishly. Either it doesn't work with your body, or it doesn't work for the event, or it doesn't work with your life. You kind of have to mix and match to make it work, otherwise it's way too overwhelming.
- Having said that, listening to other people who've done ultras or other endurance events is amazing! Anyone who's done an endurance event will have something to say that will resonate with you and which relates to your own experience in training or can set you up for what you will experience in the event. They also have a lot of ideas which would never occur to you. I quizzed a lot of people during the course of my training (most of whom I'd only just met, the poor things ... and one of whom I'd never met, just sent the poor girl a random email out of the blue. She was AMAZING and gave me so much useful information. Cheers Michelle).
- If you're going to listen to music, make sure you like it quite a lot before you start out. Because by the time you've listened to it for a few hours straight, unless you really liked it to start with, it will fill you with an incendiary rage every time you hear it thereafter. Let's not talk about what happened when Bryan Adams came on in the gym the other day.
- You can walk a lot on an ultra and it's okay! No-one cares! There is no time pressure, because you are going a really really long way.
- Speaking of, 135km is a really really long way. So is 45km. It took me a while to get to be able to do it and it also nearly wiped me out the first time I did manage it.
- You eat funny when you do an ultra. I like to eat whole unprocessed foods the vast majority of the time ... but that isn't practical on long runs like this. You sort of have to have the rubbish in there too, otherwise either you hit the wall in training and wipe yourself out, or you spend forever rustling up all natural nutrition (which probably doesn't have the right carb/protein/fat ratio anyway). You just have to go with the best you can get.
- Speaking of food, you will constantly be told that "at least you can eat whatever you want!". Sadly, this is another untruth ... mostly you become obsessed with eating the right things because you learn super-quick that if you eat a bunch of junk, then running becomes a LOT harder the next day. Like, a lot. It's like running with diesel in the tank instead of petrol ... and it's hard enough without that!
- It can consume you, because it is so scary. It's always there in the back of your mind ... you're never quite free of it. It is for this reason that I'm glad I did only ten (cough cough - okay nine. Nine days of which were in Ibiza) weeks of training. I wouldn't want it to take over any more of my life than that.
- KIT! It's expensive! But you can justifiedly buy loads of it! Because it's for an ultra darling. It's like a licence to spend. Luckily you've got no social life due to items 2 and 11 above, so you save all the money back anyway.
- Kit is not the only thing that is expensive! I might as well have just sent half my salary direct to Southern Trains and cut out the middle man (it would've been both more convenient and more tax-efficient). If you don't have somewhere in your region that is similar to the terrain for the event, you'll need to spend a lot of time on trains/in your car getting to training ground that works. London is flat as a pancake so I was lucky that I had the South Coast so close to me - it's only 52 minutes to Brighton, and about 90 minutes to each of Seaford and Eastbourne, and they had the closest thing to the terrain I needed to train on. However, even when I was booking tickets in advance it was at least £16 return to Brighton or Seaford and anything up to £31 return to Eastbourne ... which doesn't sound like much, but once or twice a week and it becomes a lot! This meant that I couldn't train in some areas that I wanted to like Yorkshire (I was dying to do the Three Peaks as part of my training).
- You can't just run in your training or a) you'll be bored out of your head in no time; and b) you'll get injured. I have a strange liking for running, but my body would never be able to cope with it without all the strength work and stretching I did as well ... plus it kind of broke it up a bit.
- Blogging is amazing! It really meant that when I thought I hadn't made any progress, I could look back and think "Oh actually ... that's cool, I have gotten better". And that's massively encouraging!
- So it turns out that you can train for an ultra in nine weeks, even if you've never done a marathon before. Ignore the side-eyes, the flicked-up eyebrows, the head-shakes and the sharp intakes of breath. It's totes doable. In fact I don't think I'd have wanted to train for much longer 'cause it was totally taking over my life.
- In a multi-day event, for me the absolute worst was the middle day. You're already knackered and in so much pain and all you can think is "OMG there's another chuffing day of this"
- Food will be the making of the event - either in a good way or a bad way! I practised with loads and loads of different kinds of foods. I will never eat another peanut butter wrap. EVER. But other choices were good and I'm glad I tried loads of different things (with varying degrees of success)!
- On the subject of food, I wish I'd known what would be at the checkpoints because I would've practised with those too. For the record, it was mini-cheddars, crisps, peanuts, jaffa cakes, jelly babies, Marmite sandwiches, cheese and pickle sandwiches, tuna mayo sandwiches, coke (vomrocket but people like it), gatorade, water, and tea and coffee. For me it was all about the salt, so I mostly stuck to the Marmite sandwiches, crisps and mini cheddars, although jaffa cakes were also high on my list. I didn't even like jaffa cakes before this event. Now I consider them manna from heaven. In future I'll contact the events organisers and ask what they have at checkpoints, but I didn't think of it for this one.
- Eating was a bit weird at night. I was totally not hungry but I forced it all down (luckily it was delicious) ... probably a good thing but it's weird to be so unhungry when you've been running all day.
- The culture is completely different from any other event I've done. I had been told that an ultra was totally non-competitive, but I really didn't believe it because I am from a triathlon background and triathletes are the most competitive people on the planet. Oh apart from marathon runners. Let's not talk about marathon runners. So when people said "No honestly, it's just about finishing" I didn't even think about believing them. But honestly - even though some people are chasing down really good times, it is all about their own achievement, not about competing with others. Everyone is pushing himself or herself to the limit and everyone recognises that, and God, the friendliness! People clap each other and genuinely mean it!
- Speaking of that, in a multi-day event, a massive part of the skill set is knowing exactly how hard you can go and still have something in the tank for the following day. I was so glad I'd practised doing back-to-back days in training, but I wish I'd been able to do three days back-to-back because I was scaaaaaared after the second day that I wouldn't be able to do the third day. I do think back-to-back training is massively important for your mental state if you're doing a multi-day event. Now I know I can do it, I feel a million times better about signing up for the JCC.
- You'll make good friends! Mostly because it's a gathering of people as certifiable as you are. That's cool 'cause the general population regards you as insane and amazing, neither of which is true (as per point 3 under training). I had to do all my training by myself, so having people to run with for three days was awesome.
- There are high points and low points ... the middle part of the second day for me was the lowest point (kilometres 20 - 28 in particular) but I was absolutely fine at the end. I even did a bit of a sprint finish. No idea why. It just goes in waves like that.
- Sometimes your stride can be off and I am pretty sure that's what leads to injury and over tightness. I am used to short distances so my stride length is longer, my pull-through on my hamstrings is stronger, and I forefoot strike. However, because I was running with others, my stride length adjusted to theirs and, as a result, I began to midfoot or even full-foot strike (never quite a heel-strike, but almost my full foot would land). That put huge pressure through my quads, calves and knees. The reason that I think that this was as a result of my altered stride was because whenever I was leading, my stride would noticeably stretch out again and my knees didn't hurt (as much) any more. I don't really know what to do with that information because I would not have given up running with Bernie and Elaine (and then later Antony and Ben and Craig) for anything - they totally made it, and I could not have done it any faster even if I'd been striding at my normal stride-length. But I know that I'll need to find some way around this issue for the JCC.
- I thought I'd feel amazing once it was over - you know, I would be amazing like people kept telling me, I'd have done an ultramarathon! I didn't feel amazing. I just felt exactly the same but with two dodgier knees and one less toenail. This in no way detracts from the fact that I'm really really happy to have done it; I just didn't feel the massive high that I thought I would. Truth is, I am still the same person. I just transported myself for eighty-two miles.
- OMG I was so swollen and bloated after the event. Even now, five days later, I'm still bloated although it's going down every day. My feet were too swollen even to put into shoes - I had to drive back with my slippers on! I did not expect that! I've googled it and it's normal, but jeez. No-one warns you of that one.
- Sayonara toenails. I got lucky; I've only lost one, but four others are a gorgeous shade of black. Antony had to have three of his surgically removed! They don't hurt but I'm happy I can cover them up with nail polish. Hooftastic.
- Really, no-one gives a shit that you've done it, so you better be happy with yourself! My boss's reaction when I came back and said "Oh I did an ultra at the weekend" was "Oh God, here we go ...". Cheers Charlie! No-one really wants to hear about it. A few friends have politely liked my album on Facebook. But I am happy I did it so I am okay with that.
So that's it lovers! I'll miss this blog and y'all - thanks for reading and if you do the event, GOOD LUCK! xx