What I Learned Running 59km

By Saturday evening I would definitely have said that I enjoyed it. At various points during the day I would also have said I was enjoying it. Anyone who has run this far knows, however, it’s not all roses. But then, this is why we do it. All the same, I’m still delighted I managed 59km self-supported last Saturday. 59km. On my own! 59km. Ok, give it a rest, Tom. I learned so much about how best to cope with this kind of run and, most importantly for me, what I could do better next time an ultra distance sneaks up on me and I feel a little less like this with 10k to go:

In science report format (groan), I’ve tried to break it down into useful chunks (pace, nutrition, clothing, entertainment and route). I appreciate the ultra aficionados amongst you may shake your heads at some of the schoolboy errors during my run but, in my opinion, that makes them all the more useful to note down. So here goes:

Pace

Classic. Don’t go out too quick. So easy to say, isn’t it? In the end I averaged 5’56″/km. I hadn’t really planned a specific pace but had in mind something closer to 6’30″/km. It was mainly about distance to me but in retrospect I needed to be stricter about my pace. I was trying at the beginning to keep it slow. It’s just so hard when you’re fresh and raring to go to run slower than you’re used to. That’s something to concentrate on in future ultra training runs – practise running slowly. The same can be said for walking too, my legs didn’t get much respite on the walking sections because I don’t train for walking enough!

Another aspect of the run when I got carried away was around the midpoint. I was well fuelled up, flying high after a halfway coffee and snacks (more on that later) and didn’t think hard enough about being sensible on pace. I had a spell of 5:30/km pace for about 7 or 8km through the parks of Milton Keynes and was really enjoying myself. I should know that’s not allowed!

Lessons learned then were not to go out too quick, don’t go quicker than I’d planned and walk more in training to build up my puny walking muscles. Another reason for my purple patch just after halfway was the fact I’d just loaded up the calories, which brings me to my next part:

Nutrition – food

Again, a simple lesson, eat when I’m feeling good.

There were a couple of times, namely 45k and 53k where I was really starting to feel the hours on my feet. On both occasions, I reached a hill and even the thought of walking up it seemed a bit of an effort. To compound this, when I felt tired I also did not feel like eating at all and assumed I was just facing the facts that I was an undertrained novice.

Also on both occasions, I had a word with myself and, if not just to lighten the load in my running vest, ate something. I’d loaded up with snack parcels of about 200 calories as they tend to last me about an hour or so. Forcing one of these down and then walking up the hill, feeling sorry for myself, it completely turned me round. After 10 minutes I was totally back on track and so surprised at the transformation in such a short time.

The main lesson for me there is always keep on top of my calories. As I said, I tend to get down 200 calories or so per hour and I need to make sure I stick with that, even if I’m loving life and powering through. It’s so much easier to shovel snacks down when you’re on a high than when all your energy has packed up. The other semi lesson I guess is that I should have faith that if I am fading and feeling tired and not hungry, it’s worth persevering and eating something. As I’ve said, these are things I’ve found work for me and i appreciate everyone and everyone’s bodies are different.

So…what did I eat? Now this, to me, is one if my biggest tips yet! I love eating and trying loads of different snacks on a run, like an extravagant buffet of sorts. After a few hours on the road though, you don’t want something too slimy, too stodgy, too sickly, too dry, too…you get the picture. Well my current favourite tipple are these bad boys from Aldi:

Coconut square, 69p from Aldi, my running nutritional dream

I’d thoroughly recommend them. 200 calories, easy to eat, full of good energy and only 69p. Winner. My full snackage on the day was as follows:

  • Up to 2 hrs: 10ish jelly babies per hour
  • 2hrs: Aldi choc orange flapjack square
  • 3hrs ish, halfway: coffee, choc chip cookie and banana
  • 4hrs: Aldi choc orange flapjack square
  • 5hrs: Aldi coconut square

Water

What about drinks? Yes, what about drinks, this is what I did, followed by what I should have done better:

  • Up to halfway, 3 hrs ish: 750ml water
  • At halfway: bought another 500ml warer
  • 4hrs 30: Lucozade and another 500ml water. Drank Lucozade immediately then finished the water over the next 2hrs.

My main underestimation was that I didn’t think I needed as much as I did. Although I felt fine, I really should have made sure that I finished all of the 1ltr I was carrying by halfway. By restocking with more, refilling both 500ml bottles rather than just one, I’d have reminded myself to continue drinking and possibly avoided an emergency newsagents stop on my way back. As an aside, these stops are always fun, especially at the 45km marker as I was, piling into a shop, having been focussed on middle distance for a couple of hours then having a perfectly normal, lucid chat to the shopkeeper fully kitted out in running gear. People do tend to stare a bit. I’m sure it’s not because of the smell, rather the dashing looks.

Water, as with food then, again, stay more consistent. I can only imagine it will get more pressing as the weather gets hotter this year.

The final reminder for me in this section is that the flexible bottles are awesome and so much easier than a standard plastic bottle. Their ease of use and non slosh design (technical term) is brilliant. Most running vests that can accommodate these tend to come with them nowadays too.

Ok, nearly there, easier ones now…

Entertainment

Aside from perhaps the most recent new born babies, I’m likely to be the last person to discover podcasts. Along with discovering them, I’ve also come across the Ginger Runner podcasts on Spotify. If you’re not aware of Ginger Runner, I can recommend his show, videos and podcasts with other ultra runners.

On a long run, I’ve started to prefer these over music. Each one of the Ginger Runner podcast interviews is about an hour and I find they give me something more to focus on than music and, as tragic as this sounds, a nice bit of company on a long run. What’s more, his guests tend to be ultra running legends who are pretty inspirational when on a long run yourself.

With such a lot of time on my hands during a run like that I also tend to have spells of half an hour or so with nothing at all, especially during particularly rural parts with no traffic. I enjoy this more and more recently, just taking in the surroundings and remembering how much my legs hurt lucky I am to be able to do this. Very deep, let’s move on.

Clothing

Necessary. Aside from that wisdom, the main take home for me wasn’t the extra layers I should have taken for the running. Nope, it was remembering that it was only early April when I stopped. I tend to wear shorts whatever time of year it is since it never really gets properly cold here. Given it was a fine day, I also had a t-shirt on. This was spot on. When I stopped for a halfway coffee, however, I was surprised how quickly I got cold. It was still only 8C after all.

Therefore, my main point to note is to be aware of what I might need at checkpoints in races and perhaps skip another layer on if I plan to stop for anything more than a minute or so. Or just stop being so nesh (I hear you shout).

Route

In September, my 100km Thames Path Challenge will be mainly trails. In contrast, this one was mainly rural roads with smooth, if potholed, tarmac. Very much like this for 75% of the time:

12K from home, standard footing for most of this one

This was deliberate so I could be consistent and easy on the ankles. I appreciate road running can be harder on your feet but, since I mainly run on roads or paths, I was happy to take the risk.

The main issue I had, most probably with myself and my planning, was the elevation profile. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t climbing any mountains and I even chose this route because of its relative flatness but, come on Tom, don’t give yourself a second half of uphill:

Can’t really be helped and it was only 1000ft climbing in total. I’m sure you’ll be aware though, when you’re running and tired, the slightest incline can feel like Everest.

I think I’ve just about covered everything that sprung to mind having done that one. Apologies for the essay and well done and thank you for making it this far. I hope it has been of some interest / use. It certainly was for me, getting my rabble of thoughts down and we’ll see how much I’ve learnt as I put this in practice by tackling a 50km run this weekend.

I’d be interested to know how different these observations are to your own running routines?

Happy running!

Distance 58.92km

Time 5h49m53s

Elevation 472m (1067ft)

Steps for the day 62103

Strava entry

4 Comments

    1. Yeah, you have to take on something to make it to the end. That’s what the training runs are good for, practising what snacks are good and which ones aren’t. I like to see it as a very drawn out buffet 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  1. This was really helpful, thank you, as I prepare for my first ultra (only 50k, mind). I am already OK at eating on the go, and I do quite a lot of jeffing so it was really useful to know that practising walking is something that’s helpful. I am with you on roads vs trails, the longest trail run I’ve got in the calendar is a 10 mile one in June. Gulp. I’ll be fine, right?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Liz, sorry for the delay replying. Glad it was of some use 🙂 any ultra to me is massive and any tips work whether it’s 45k, 50k or 80k! I’m sure you’ll love it, especially as you seem happy to walk when the desire comes! I’m trying to fit more trails into my runs now to help me out. I ran another long one on trails last week (blog post to come!) and that showed up my weak road-running ankles a bit!! Sure you’ll be fine, either way, make sure to enjoy it!

      Like

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