Front Runner Magazine
Ezine: Issue 1, 2015
Fuel for the Trails
If you are new to trail running or even if you’re already a trail veteran and you haven’t yet perfected your fueling and hydration strategy for training or racing on the trails then there are a few factors you must take into consideration when deciding on the most appropriate fueling and hydration strategy for your runs.
The first thing to recognize, as is the case with individual training plans, is that there is not a “one size fits all” fueling and hydration approach. Every runner has varying nutritional requirements, sweat rates and fat burning capabilities. A better understanding of your particular needs can be accomplished by testing and refining your hydration and fueling strategy during training. There are no short cuts.
Although a separate topic for discussion, if you have trained your body appropriately and consumed a diet that teaches your body to burn fat (i.e. less carbohydrates and more fats and protein) as your primary fuel source (rather than sugar as your primary food source) then the need for additional nutrients whilst undertaking long training runs or during race events will be greatly reduced. Even lean athletes have extensive fat reserves.
Now back to fueling your body during long trail runs and races. It has been fairly well documented that consuming a carbohydrate drink that provides about 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrates per hour during long training runs or competitive events can improve endurance. This equates to adding about one heaped teaspoon of honey (for example) to 180ml of water. This helps to maintain fat burning for energy, coordination and also helps prevent feelings that your effort whilst running is more difficult than it actually is.
With your carbohydrate drink there are two important considerations you should consider: the strength of the drink and the type of sugar contained in the drink. Strength refers to the concentration of sugar found in the drink. The strength has an impact on how your intestines handle the drink, which then subsequently impacts on your metabolism. If at all possible, it’s best to make carbohydrate drinks at home from basic natural food sources that don’t contain unhealthy ingredients. This also provides an opportunity for you to modify the sugar concentration, sodium or other components to suit your own unique body requirements.
It is best to use food sources made of simple sugars such as fruit juice or honey for example. Apple juice works well but carrying apple juice mixed with water during a hot trail run could lead to the juice going bad so the environmental conditions also need to be taken into account. As with all foods you should test those that work best with your unique body requirements. For example, some runners are not able to tolerate high amounts of fructose (which is contained in both honey and fruit juice) as it can cause lower intestinal discomfort. Another important point to note is that some sugars such as sucrose and malt for example require digestion that may also cause intestinal issues.
If you stick to the recommended concentration of 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrates per hour made of simple sugars (that your body can easily tolerate), this will not remain for too long in the stomach and will be processed at a similar rate to plain water. If the concentration of sugar in your drink is too high however, it may remain in the stomach for longer and therefore absorption will be delayed. A final point to note is that while carbohydrate drinks are high in water content, they should be consumed in addition to, rather than in place of, water and sodium.
Some runners also like to include sodium in their carbohydrate drink. For most runners this would be around 500mg of sodium per 250ml to 500ml of fluid (this could be in the form of salt). Depending on your unique sweat rate and environmental conditions you should ideally consume between 250ml and 500ml of your carbohydrate solution every 15 minutes.
However, irrespective of your fluid intake, many running events or training sessions result in dehydration despite fluid intake as it is almost impossible to balance water loss and intake. The more water you can drink in smaller amounts throughout a training session or race, the less dehydrated you will become by the finish. In long events or training sessions water should be consumed in addition to your carbohydrate drink.
In longer efforts, many runners find that the addition of protein during training and racing is also very helpful. Personally I use Organic Vanilla Hemp Rice Protein. This is also high in L-glutamine which also improves water and electrolyte absorption. You can mix about 10 to 15 grams of protein into your carbohydrate drink.
Many athletes prefer solid food to obtain some of their carbohydrate and protein needs. I prefer to carry pitted dates, raisins and dried apricots for energy. On their own they are a little difficult to chew and swallow on the go, but with a quick squirt of water from your water bottle they go down like a treat. I also carry raw cashews (probably the easiest nuts to chew and digest on the run) and also with a healthy mix of protein, carbohydrates and healthy fat.
A small amount of fat can also be helpful during competition and help in recovery after competition. A small amount of coconut oil, for example, cannot only make some solutions or foods more palatable but can also contribute to energy needs.
Finally, and importantly, the foods you bring onto the trail should be high energy, light and easily digestible.
Reference: The Big Book of Endurance Racing and Training – Dr. Philip Maffetone.
Mind Your Footing
As with most “so-called” running advice, what is described in this article is not based on any scientific study or statistical, fact-based evidence of any kind. The suggestions, recommendations and advice in this article are based on the author’s personal experiences whilst training and racing on trails and should not be taken to be appropriate for all runners. Having stated this, the author encourages all runners at all levels of experience to try out new techniques and styles and adapt those that work best in alignment with each runner’s own unique running style, body mechanics and fitness level.
Due to the varying terrain that runners encounter on trails, it is very difficult to adopt an efficient running style or technique such as that which one may be able to develop for running on the roads or on the track. Comparatively (there are exceptions of course), road and track surfaces tend to have minimal variation in terrain besides generally gradual elevation profile changes on hilly routes. Also, surface composition remains relatively unchanged with either concrete or asphalt as the most common road surfaces.
However runners who have been training or racing on trails for some time will recognize that there are many different types of trails ranging from the less technical graded dirt road through to highly technical trails full of rapid elevation changes, roots, rocks, mud, water, sand, gravel, natural steps, etc. For trails it’s important to distinguish between “terrain”, “trail composition” and “trail condition”.
When we refer to terrain we mean the topology of the trail, such as elevation profile changes on a macro level down to the “step by step” changes that occur at the micro level. Trail composition on the other hand refers to the makeup of the trail itself such as soil, rocks, sand, leaves, pine needles, roots, gravel, etc. Trail condition refers to whether the trail is dry, damp, wet or saturated.
When talking about foot placement whilst navigating trails it is important that we consider all three trail attributes. As we move from step to step on a trail the combination of elements present will vary. Hence there is no consistency and each step must be taken as unique from any of those taken previously. Hence the challenge of tackling and conquering trails. As with most things in life, and this also applies to trail running there is only one way to get better. And that’s to do lots of practice.
So how does better foot placement technique allow one to get better at running trails and what techniques lead to faster running on the trails? Well you can become a better and faster trail runner by developing your scanning, planning and foot placement ability.
Before talking about this in more detail some considerations to take into account as a trail runner are:
The size of your shoes.
Your strength (particularly your legs and core).
Now why might these three attributes be important when talking about foot placement? Let’s address each of these in turn.
Firstly, the smaller your foot (shoes) then your foot placement options tend to be greater, as it is easier to place a smaller foot into a more ideal position when running than it is with a larger foot. For those runners with bigger feet such as myself (US size 13) then your foot placement options are reduced somewhat due to the larger surface area with which to be able to find the most appropriate point of placement on the trail. This becomes more prevalent the more technical the trail becomes.
Secondly, the taller you are then the higher your center of gravity. This is important as the higher your center of gravity then the less stable you will be on your feet. However, the taller you are then you will also most likely have longer legs which can also improve your options in terms of foot placement as you will tend to have a larger range of motion than a runner with shorter legs. Lower stability with an increase in height also becomes more prevalent, the more technical the trail becomes.
Your leg and core strength will also either improve or decrease your ability and options in terms of foot placement. You will tend to need to take smaller steps if your leg and core strength are poor than you will if you have good leg and core strength. Therefore with less strength, your options tend to be reduced in terms of foot placement as you have a smaller range of motion and hence a smaller available field in terms of your foot placement options.
As a taller runner you will also need to have relatively better core and leg strength than a shorter runner as you will need to be able to manage your higher relative instability.
So what am I saying here? Well on very technical terrain, shorter runners (which usually also means smaller feet) tend to have the advantage whilst on less technical terrain taller runners (all things being equal) tend to have a slight advantage.
So now that we’ve seen how the type of trail you are running on and your runner attributes can affect foot placement let’s talk about some techniques that may help you become better at this activity.
With trail running my general approach to training and racing is to “plan and practice for the best case scenario but be prepared for the worst case outcome”.
Some general guidelines with respect to ideal foot placement:
1. Run light. If at all possible never put your full weight on any one foot in case your foot placement is not ideal and you experience a slip. Not having your full weight on your ground contact foot could avoid a nasty fall as you then have a better ability to recover more quickly by shifting your weight quickly to the other foot.
2. As much as possible your foot should contact the ground directly under your center of gravity. The reason for this is that should your foot placement not be ideal, then this will reduce the potential for slipping, becoming off balance and potentially having an unavoidable fall. Whilst running down steep slopes this will mean you need to lean slightly more forward than you may think is warranted and to shorten your stride.
3. Plan your foot placement a few steps in advance. This is an acquired skill that comes with lots of practice. The more technical the trail and the faster you run then the more difficult this skill will be to perfect. Start your practice on less technical trails and keep the pace slow. As you gain confidence then you can increase the speed and / or the technical difficulty of the trail. There are three components to this as follows:
a. Scan the ground immediately in front of you and out to about three or four meters in front of you. What you are looking for are (as much as possible) flat, non-slip landing zones that will fit your shoe for the next three steps in advance of your current ground contact point. The more technical the terrain the more time this will take and you may only have time to find one or two landing zones in advance of your current ground contact point.
b. Plan your route, body placement and exact foot positioning for the identified landing zones. As much as possible you should try to keep your body (and hence center of gravity) above your foot landing zone on ground contact.
It’s important to recognize that there is no “ideal” foot placement position and sometimes you may only have space in your chosen landing zone to place half your foot (say your heel or the ball of your foot) only. So with less ground contact this also generally increases your chances of slipping or stumbling. Due to limited options some of your chosen landing zones may be even less ideal than this where you may be having to land on wet, slippery rocks or dry pine needles or a host of other less than safe landing zones. This leads on to the next guideline.
4. Control your fear. Some runners tend to “pick” their way along trails as they succumb to their “fear” of slipping and potentially falling. In my experience if you are afraid to fall then you will fall. Have confidence in the training you have undertaken and overcome your fear. You may find you are able to traverse a trail faster and utilize less energy in the process as your running style will “flow” more efficiently than if you are stiff and scared.
5. In contrast to the earlier point, expect that your foot placement will not be ideal and expect and accept that you will slip, slide and trip over regularly. The important thing is that if you expect it to happen then you can always plan to overcome these occurrences without hitting the deck. Sometimes there is no good option in terms of foot placement and your options may be either “bad” or “worse”. In these scenarios you must do the best with what options you have but be prepared to react and recover to an “expected” slip, slide or stumble.
6. Sometimes when you are not able to plan your foot placement in advance you will need to take a “step of faith”. What I mean by this is that you end up taking your next step without knowing at that point where your foot is going to be placed when it lands. This may happen if you loose your footing earlier as you will be focused on regaining your balance at that point and not planning ahead for your next foot placement. This may also happen if you are really moving quickly and your mind and eyes are not able to keep up with the constant scanning and planning process for foot placement. So what I do here is that I tend to take off for a longer step and with a higher bounce. What this effectively does is gives your brain a fraction of a second longer in order to catch up on it’s scanning and planning process as this type of step will take longer to complete. This also assists in maintaining your momentum. What this process allows you to do is to adjust your stride length and hence foot placement “mid stride”. So after you take off your brain notices a possible foot placement position that is shorter than the actual natural landing point based on your takeoff. So you can pull your stride back a little in order to get your foot into the identified placement position whilst in mid air. This may leave your foot strike contact point slightly behind of your center of gravity, and hence this will need to be managed in the next stride to avoid potentially falling forward. Alternatively, if your brain identifies a foot placement position beyond the natural landing point then you will need to extend your stride forward slightly and almost “float” to your newly identified foot position. This may leave your foot strike contact point slightly ahead of your center of gravity that may increase the risk of slipping or sliding so this should always be in the back of your mind.
The better you are able to master the above techniques then the faster and more effortlessly will you be able to navigate trails.
In addition to the techniques outlined above some specific pointers (these are generalities only and some of the following pointers may not hold true in certain circumstances) for expectations on different types of trail composition are as follows.
- Dry pine needles tend to be slippery as the cylindrical shape combined with limited friction between each of the pine needles means they tend to roll under your feet. Damp or wet pine needles tend to be fairly stable under foot. This is because water tends to assist the needles in clumping together which aids in under foot stability.
- Wet roots tend to be very slippery under foot whilst dry roots tend to be fairly “grippy”.
- Dry leaves tend to be more slippery under foot than damp or wet leaves.
- Dry rocks (not covered in moss or algae) tend to be relatively “grippy” under foot whilst most wet rocks tend to be slippery under foot.
- Small gravel on a slope tends to be more slippery and unstable under foot when dry then when damp or wet. Sometimes damp or wet conditions allow gravel to somewhat “stick” together better although this is not always the case.
- MUD is always slippery! The more water infused in the dirt then the more slippery it tends to be.
- Dry sand (like gravel) tends to be unstable under foot whilst wet sand tends to have more grip and more stickiness under foot which aids in under foot stability.
- Compacted (solid) damp or wet type clay soils are generally slippery. When these are dryer they tend to be very “grippy” under foot.
- Loose dry soils tend to be slippery under foot. With some dampness or wetness these types of soils can become more “grippy”.
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Front Runner Magazine
OCHO OCHO 220KM
Run of a Lifetime
You might be asking what inspires one to “want” to run over 200km on a road course that decends to sea level and then ascends to an altitude of 1,500m not once, but twice with over 5,000m of elevation gain and descent throughout. Well having personally joined and completed FrontRunner Magazine’s Ocho Ocho 220km Road Race between June 13 and June 15, 2014 which started and finished in Baguio City in Central Luzon, Philippines I think I’m in a great position to talk about the answer to this from personal experience.
I think the following phrase, “Everyone is broken by life, but some people are stronger in the broken places.” penned by Ernest Hemmingway embodies the mentality of the ultra marathoner. For me the answer to the question “why” I run these kinds of races and distances is very simple. I want to push the limits of my endurance, both physically and mentally to see of what I’m actually capable. How long can I go and how fast can I do it. These are the two key motivating factors behind the events I attempt. It’s less about competing with other runners although being out there with friends (the ultra running community is relatively small and tight-knit) and fellow competitors certainly gives additional motivation along the way. A podium finish (if it happens) is just icing on the cake.
I have learnt that in order to finish a race of this magnitude it is far more mental determination than physical capability (although that does also play a role) that gets you to the finish line. I am often asked how much training I do in order to run distances of this magnitude. Well most people would be surprised to learn that my typical training regimen (not including races) would range from about 50km up to a maximum of about 100km per week (this is small by most ultra running standards). Some of this training would be on the roads and some on the trails. Particularly on the trails there is typically a lot more walking than running due to the terrain but the trails do help to build strength in areas that cannot be achieved through road running alone. My weekly training duration ranges from about 6 hours up to about 12 hours depending on my other work and personal commitments and of course how I’m feeling.
Now to the race itself. What I have learnt is that there is no such thing as the perfect preparation for any ultra marathon. As a runner I’ve learnt that you need to make the commitment and believe in yourself and that you are not just capable of finishing but that you are capable of finishing strong. My motto: “No excuses. Only results.” embodies the attitude I like to bring to these events.
The 2014 Ocho Ocho 220 had a small start list of just 12 dedicated ultra runners consisting of some of the most accomplished ultra runners in the Philippines and including one Malaysian competitor. As the runners assembled at the starting line (Baguio City Hall) prior to the start at 5.00am on Friday 13th June 2014 the weather was somewhat cloudy and rain appeared imminent. I arrived at the start line with my support crew consisting of my wife Mae, our driver Andy and our extra support Mika. I was happy that my wife and Andy already had experience acting as my support crew during my West Coast 200km road run in November 2013 so they knew what to expect during the race.
As the competitors assembled for the start, a light rain commenced. This was a sign of things to come as we later discovered, as we were about to experience many instances of rain throughout the event. Personally, this was not a problem for me, as I tend to perform better in cooler weather as opposed to hot, sunny, humid conditions. The only concern for me was whether having wet feet would lead to the formation of blisters, which can, at a minimum slow you down and in severe cases stop you altogether. In any case, the weather is not in our control so as ultra runners we just need to “roll with the punches”, so to speak and adjust to the conditions. Photos were taken on the steps of the City Hall and then the runners gathered at the base of the steps for the somewhat subdued start and sendoff. There was a long way to go and I’m sure we were all deep in thought about the long journey ahead.
The race consisted of two loops in the shape of an eight when laid out on a map (hence the term Ocho Ocho – Ocho is derived from the Spanish word for eight) with the start, halfway point and finish line in Baguio City.
The Race Director, Jonel Mendoza counted down to the start and then three of the runners: Marcelo Bautista, Wilnar Iglesia and Benedict Meneses all sprinted off down the small hill and onto Kisad Road heading out to Marcos Highway which leads down to the province of La Union. I was surprised at the starting pace of these three runners (considering the long distance ahead), but I decided not to be phased by that and stick to my plan to run / walk at a pace which would get me back to Baguio City (a distance of 119km) feeling “relatively” fresh and ready to complete the second loop of about 100km. Within a couple of minutes Marcelo and Wilnar had disappeared into the distance and I quite quickly caught up to Benedict who I think must have had a rush of adrenaline at the start. I settled into a very comfortable pace in third position and just wanted to enjoy the cool morning conditions in the mountains of the Cordilleras. It would be all downhill for a distance of about 34km so I knew I had to “preserve” my quadriceps, knees and ankles from the strain of running downhill as I would need to traverse this road again at the start of the second loop. Having run the first 60km of this route in a previous race I knew exactly what to expect.
I advised my support crew to initially stop at 5km intervals as I carried one bottle of water to sustain me between support stops. The first 20km of the race was uneventful but I just focussed on remaining comfortable and enjoying the experience for as long as possible. I would watch the other support crews drive past and this would give me an idea of how close the following runners were behind me. As we descended, the temperature and humidity in the lowlands increased significantly over that which we had experienced during the earlier portions of the race. I removed my rain jacket initially as I was feeling hot and eventually I also removed my shirt as it was soaked and weighing me down. This also allowed my body to discipate the heat more effectively.
During my descent it appeared that Marcelo and Wilnar had set a “cracking” pace and had already put quite a large amount of distance between themselves and the rest of the runners. I was just wondering how long they could keep up the pace. With regards to Marcelo this question would be answered when I reached the 49km check point at Agoo and I came across Marcelo who appeared to be “wasted”. He apparently was experiencing “chafing” in his nether regions also, which, considering the distance yet to be completed was a sure sign that things would not bide well for him in the long run. My support crew assisted Marcelo (who was semi-self supported) as much as possible with ice, cream for chafing and food. I also learnt that Wilnar was over 1 hour ahead at this early stage.
I changed out of my wet socks to a fresh pair and I set off along MacArthur Highway just a short distance behind Marcelo and soon was overtaking him with Marcelo trying to remain by my side. After some time, Marcelo dropped back due to his condition. I had moved into second place. In order to maintain my motivation, my goal was now to remain in second place up until the mid way point in Baguio City. The temperature was rising, the rain had stopped and the traffic along the highway meant more focus was required in order to avoid an accident. I had to replace my shirt to avoid sunburn and I was now running and walking in order to regulate my body temperature, as heat stroke and dehydration are one of the fastest ways to end your chances of completing a race such as this.
I reached the second checkpoint at Bauang at the 72km mark and was feeling much more tired due to the heat and humidity. I also found out that Wilnar now had almost a 3-hour lead. I knew at some point he would have to slow down and so I was not concerned. I was just looking forward to heading back up to higher elevation (and the cooler weather) along the Naguilian Road. As I set out from here the rain started again and in some places it was quite heavy. I actually enjoy running in the rain. I find it somewhat theraputic as well as helping to reduce my body temperature. Maybe it’s a throwback to my childhood days when I used to go out and play in the rain. Anyway, the rain was a welcome relief and I was starting to feel somewhat rejueventated. As the ascent to Baguio City became steeper I was reduced to walking only. There were stages of walking close to the river and it was also a relief to be amongst the forest environment again and away from so much traffic and pollution.
As the daylight wained, the temperature dropped and more energy returned to my body. My goal was now to get to Baguio City in order to have a short but essential rest before attempting the second loop. Due to the fact that I was walking it seemed like an eternity before I reached the outskirts of Baguio City and then even longer before I recognised I was approaching the town hall (the halfway point). I walked into the town hall in the early hours of the morning 18 hrs 30 mins after the start and exactly five hours after Wilnar who I later found out had not even stopped to rest at this point. I was surprised at Wilnar’s move as there was still over 100km to go in order to complete the race. My wife Mae (being the head of the support crew) advised she was going to allow me to rest for one hour only which, although welcome seemed a little “light on” from my perspective. But in my condition who was I to argue. My support vehicle was the only place I really had to get a rest so I made myself as comfortable as possible (considering my 6’2”, 82kg frame) and tried to sleep. I must have dozed off for some time and when I “came to” it appeared two hours had elapsed. I thought Mae must have also dozed off and not realised the time as she had originally allowed me only 1 hour but I was also somewhat releived that I had received more rest than expected. I was feeling quite good so I quickly woke up my crew and got myself ready with socks and shoes. As I was preparing myself I saw the Malaysian competitor Yim, heading off to his second loop. Since the start of the race the only competitors I had seen in the flesh was Yim and Benedict at the halfway point. Yim’s move would now mean I was relegated into third position. I was a little panicked as I was hoping to maintain my second position but Mae just told me to relax and continue to do my best.
It was still very early in the morning as I headed off down the road I had started out on the day before (a little bit of de-ja-vu set in). In a way it was great to have Yim out in front of me and so my goal was now to remain within “striking” distance. It’s strange what things you can get to motivate yourself in races such as this. I have a very competitive streak and I was using this competitiveness to motivate myself to keep going.
Once again my goal was to move at a modest pace (sometimes jogging, sometimes walking) whilst trying to leave “enough in the tank” to ensure I got to the finish line. This journey down the mountain was a little slower than the day before and the termperature and humidity in the lowlands also appeared to be higher. When approaching the checkpoint at Agoo (168 km) for the second time, the rain was once again showing itself, which was another welcome relief. When I reached this point I also found out that Yim was now 1 hour ahead of me whilst I had only given him a half hour start earlier in the morning. Wilnar was now six hours ahead, which seemed an impossible margin to close at this stage of the race considering there was only around 52km until the finish line. But as they say “It aint over til it’s over”. I resolved to increase my speed but I was having a hard time due to the hot and humid conditions. I was resting more often and my support vehicle was now stopping every 2km. I was starting to doubt my ability to complete the race at this point but I was still determined to push as hard as I could. “Things can only get better” as they say.
So I started out from the Agoo checkpoint in the opposite direction down the MacArthur Highway from the day before. The rain was still falling and so the conditions from my perspective were about as good as they were going to get. At this stage I was no longer running and was just trying to maintain a race-walking pace to get through the remaining kilometers as fast as possible. My goal was to make up some ground on the second place runner, Yim. This was a difficult section of the route due to the humidity and the fact that so many heavy vehicles were using such a narrow section of road. I had to be consistently on alert to avoid being hit by oncoming vehicles. Luckily there was only one close encounter along this section of road. I was really looking forward to reaching Kennon Road (at about the 185km point) that would signal the final stretch of road running along the river to Baguio City through the beautiful forest landscapes. As the altitude would be increasing this would also bring a drop in temperature. I ended up reaching this section as the daylight was fading. This is the start of the steepest climb of the race but personally I like climbs better than decents. I just wanted to ensure I had the energy to complete this (considering the distance I had already come).
Up until this point in the race my diet had consisted mainly of smoothies (made of vegetables, fruit and other plant-based super foods from the SuperFoodGrocer Philippines), bananas and water for fluids supplemented by Salt Sticks for salt and electrolyte replacement. However, as I had run out of these smoothie “concoctions” I was now down to eating whatever we could find along the route as well as some gels I had brought with me for energy.
I was feeling more energised as the heat and humidity of the daytime decreased and I started to pick up my pace in an effort to catch Yim who was (as far as I knew) still holding on to second place. Night had decended and then at one point I saw one of the other competitor’s support vehicles come by from behind (obviously checking out my location to see if there was a possibility of their runner moving up in rankings). This gave me further motivation to go faster to ensure at least a podium finish (if not second place). During this part of the race my support crew had received news that Yim had “quit” the race and decided not to continue about 15km short of the finish line. They decided not to inform me in order to continue to give me motivation so that I may continue to strive to pick him up in the dying stages of the race. In hindsight this was a good decision by my support crew and enabled me to continue being motivated to move forward. With the push from behind and the motivation to improve my position up front I felt re-energized and was moving up the steepest section of the course with improved speed and almost no rest breaks. I continued this last spurt until jogging up the steps of the town hall to reach the finish line. Only then I was informed that I had reached the finish in second place and a mere one hour and 16 minutes shy of the winner Wilnar.
Looking at the final statistics, in the last 52kms of the race I managed to close the gap on the winner Wilnar from 5 hrs 55 min to just 1 hr 16 mins of which I was quite proud. This is the longest foot race I have completed thus far and was also one of the most enjoyable for me.
This is not the end of my quest. I have longer and more difficult goals to accomplish.
Race Split Times:
- Pugo / Tubao Junction, Marcos Highway (34km) – 3hrs 22min 41sec
- Agila ng Agoo, Marcos Highway / MacArthur Highway (49km) – 4hrs 58min 55sec
- Bauang, La Union (72km) – 8hrs 52min 47secs
- Baguio City Hall (119km) – 18hrs 30min 06secs
- Agila ng Agoo, Marcos Highway / MacArthur Highway (168km) – 30hrs 47min
- Baguio City Hall (220km) – 44hrs 18min 38secs
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Front Runner Magazine
Training for the Trails
How to complete a trail ultramarathon with confidence
If you are strictly a road runner and have only attempted and/or completed perhaps up to a marathon distance (42.195 km or 26 miles), or if you are a beginner in regards to trail running, you may be wondering what it takes to prepare so that you are confident to try (and hopefully complete) a trail marathon or ultramarathon. Well to give you a better idea of what you may be in for, I’d encourage you to undertake this small exercise in your mind’s eye: Think of the longest road run you have ever completed. Think of how much effort this took and how you felt during and at the completion of the event. Hold that thought for a moment; then in your mind’s eye extend this distance out to 42 km, then 50 km, then 50 miles (80 km) then 100 km or even out to 100 miles (or 160 km, which is almost four back-to-back standard marathons!). How are you feeling now?
Let’s not stop there though. Let’s move your run off the roads and onto the trails. Trails consist of dirt, loose gravel or rocky roads with uneven terrain, potholes and culverts to traverse. Trails also consist of single-track routes with terrain such as mossy rocks, gravel, dirt, mud and tree roots to navigate. There are hanging bridges made of wooden or metal planks and wire to traverse. There are also muddy vegetable and rice terraces to negotiate and small streams, irrigation channels and even larger rivers to cross. There may also be limited sections of concreted roads and concreted tire paths to negotiate.
Then let’s throw in anywhere between 3,000 and 10,000 meters of climbs and descents throughout the course. The upper end of this range is significantly more in terms of elevation gain (from sea level) than climbing and descending Mt. Everest, the world’s tallest mountain.
You must be feeling tired and overwhelmed by this small exercise by now; but we’re not yet through. In addition to distance, elevation and terrain, we must also take weather conditions into account. In the Philippines and particularly in the mountains, weather is unpredictable and ranges from hot temperatures (around 40 degrees Celsius in the sun) and clear conditions to torrential rains, sub-zero temperatures, strong winds and blinding fog/clouds. All these conditions and anything in between the two extremes can be experienced throughout the duration of any race.
And we are still not finished yet. Sections of the race will need to be done in complete darkness: no street lights; no lights from houses to light the way. Runners need to negotiate their own way through the course with headlights or hand-held torches.
All nutrition, hydration and gear must be carried with the runner as distances between aid stations (places where you can eat and refill your hydration gear) may range anywhere between 8 km and 20 km. Depending on the terrain and the fitness level of the runner, it can take anywhere between one hour and up to almost six hours to move from one aid station to the next. So between these points, runners need to be self-sufficient. There are usually no shops where sustenance can be purchased and very few houses along the trails. Warm and water-proof clothing also needs to be packed in case of adverse weather conditions. The weight of this additional gear can range anywhere from 2 kg up to 5 kg, depending on the individual runner’s requirements or level of risk taking.
If you did not think this was hard enough, now you need to complete the event within the time limit set by the race organizers. For the longer events, your time limit could be anywhere up to 48 hours. In order to have a chance of completing the event within the cutoff, there shall be little chance to rest and almost no chance to sleep. Sleep, you hear me say? Why would I want to be sleeping in the middle of a race? Well specifically for the longer distance events over 100 km in length and unless you are an elite athlete, you will most likely require one or more rest/sleep breaks to let your body relax and rejuvenate a little. If you consider that you could be on your feet for up to two days in the longer events, then you will start to understand the enormity of what your body goes through. But mostly the only stops will be to refuel, rehydrate, to adjust gear, change clothes, shoes, socks, etc., and then you continue on.
So you might be asking what skills need to be trained or developed to complete an event such as this. Suffice to say that there are many new skills to be developed over and above those that you developed whilst running on the roads. So here goes:
- An “iron” will. A “never give up” attitude. This is a mental (rather than a physical) trait. And this can be developed primarily through experience. This is what keeps you going when your body says “stop;” when your energy is so depleted that putting one foot in front of the other seems almost impossible; when you are so tired you are walking like a drunkard and almost falling asleep on your feet; when your joints, muscles and tendons feel like a hammer has pounded them the whole day. This is the key attribute that keeps you going. And it can be improved with training and experience. You learn to push through what your body is experiencing. You learn to give your mind control over your body (rather than the other way around). Your ability to keep on moving forward and to ignore the pain will help get you to the finish line.
- Significant volumes of running training. This not only involves significant distance (I’d suggest at least a minimum of 80 km per week for the longer events) but also what is termed “time on feet.” Some events last for up to two days (48 hours). For best results, training should be undertaken as closely as possible on similar terrain, with similar elevation gains and losses and in varying weather conditions all to (as closely as possible) simulate race day conditions, course terrain and elevation changes.
- Significant volumes of walking/hiking on similar terrain as the race route. You might be asking why one walks/hikes in a marathon or ultra trail “run”? Well in the world of ultramarathons (and definitely trail ultramarathons) there are always stages of the event where runners walk or hike. Runners may choose to walk on steep uphill and downhill sections, extremely technical terrain, or just so they can regain some strength from the exertion already undertaken in preparation for what is still to come. Once again, “time on feet” is an important criterion here.
- Adequate quality and quantity of nutrition can also not be overlooked as this will impact on training quality as well as the race day condition of the runner. Nutritional requirements for runners will vary depending on age, gender, current physical condition, training type and volume. But suffice to say that large quantities of vegetables and fruits, quality sources of protein, healthy fats, unprocessed forms of carbohydrates and lots of water should form the basis of a solid nutritional plan for training and event preparation.
- Your training should mimic as closely as possible the race you are preparing for. If there is significant elevation gain and descent on the course then you need to incorporate many more uphills and downhills into your training. If there are lots of technical, single-track trails to negotiate then you need to develop your footwork in order that you are comfortable in negotiating this terrain come race day. If the weather is likely to be hot then train in the heat. If the course is at elevation, try to train at or above that elevation at least in the last few weeks prior to the event. If you just train on the roads then this is not going to be the ideal training ground to get you to the finish line on race day. Road running uses a more limited set of muscle groups than running on the trails, so you may find yourself lacking in vital areas come race day and particularly as the you enter the later sections of the course. Also, with road running you can enter the “zone” and not have to think so much about foot placement, etc. On the trails, if you enter the “zone” as we say, you may wake up and find yourself tumbling down the side of a cliff! So it’s imperative to have 100% focus all of the time to prevent possible injury whilst on the trails.
- The final suggestion is to test the gear, shoes, equipment, hydration, nutrition and the weight to be carried, etc. that you plan to use during the event. Test this during your longer runs/hikes whilst training as this will give you the ability to make changes before the event rather than having to deal with problems during race day itself.
You might be wondering what gives me, the author, the knowledge to be able to “authoritatively” recommend the above approach to preparing for a trail marathon/ultramarathon event. Well in my opinion, failure is the best way to prepare for success. And success is then validation of the changes you implement to overcome failure. I can tell you that as an ultrarunner, I have had my fair share of failure but also some successes as well:
Failures (I like to call them “learning experiences”)
- 2011 The North Face 100 Camsur, Philippines (100-km trail ultramarathon) – Did not Finish (DNF) – completed 70 km
- 2012 The North Face 100 Baguio/Benguet, Philippines – DNF, completed 53 km
- 2013 The North Face 100 Baguio-Benguet, Philippines 2013 – DNF, completed 71 km
- 2014 Hardcore 100 Miles Trail Ultra Marathon (H1), Kayapa, Nueva Vizcaya, Philippines – DNF, completed 102 km
Successes (validation of changes made due to past failures)
- 1st Valley Trail Challenge (57km Ultra Marathon), Nuvali, Sta. Rosa, Laguna, June 18, 2011 – 55th out of 112 finishers (9:06:40)
- Clark-Miyamit Falls Trail Marathon (42km), Clark, September 22, 2013 – 8th out of 115 finishers (6:29:24)
- 4th Mt. Pinatubo (50km) Ultra Trail Challenge – Tarlac, October 13, 2013 – 2nd out of 50 finishers (7:15:59)
- 1st West Coast Road Ultra Marathon Race (200km) – Subic to Alaminos, November 1-3, 2013 – 40th out of 41 finishers (47: 38:29)
- Clark-Miyamit Falls Trail Ultra Marathon (50 miles), Clark, November 24, 2013 – 17th out of 95 finishers (14:42:48)
- Bataan Death March 102K (Road Ultra Marathon), Mariveles, Bataan to San Fernando, Pampanga, March 1-2, 2014 – 45th out of 253 finishers (14:09:38)
- 3rd Ugo Trail Marathon (42km), Kayapa, Nueva Vizcaya, March 30, 2014 – 6th out of 71 finishers (5:35:40)
- Baguio to Aringay (La Union) Road Ultra Marathon (62km), April 20, 2014 – 5th out of 22 finishers (6:12:00)
- Run for the Trails (12km) – Baguio City, April 27, 2014 – 11th place (1:16:00)
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The Super Food Grocer
Episode 6 Going Super Food Podcast
In Episode 6 of the Going Super Podcast, we interview Robert Watson on ultra running distances up to 228 km straight in the Philippines (with little or no rest), powered by Superfoods and Green Smoothies. Ultra running is defined as any distance more than the marathon distance of 26.2 miles (42 km). Races would cover anything between 50 miles, 100 miles, to 180 miles (289.7 km) on foot. If you are an avid runner or someone just interested in getting started in running (or walking) regarding of your age, weight, or whatever starting point, this episode is for you! To listen, head over to learn.thesuperfoodgrocer.com and click on Podcast. Power up! ;) #thesuperfoodgrocer #superfoodsphilippines #TeamSuperPH #ultrarunning #runningPH #superfoods #plantpower
Click here to listen to the Podcast