Time: 8.5 hours (and about .5 changing gear, eating and filling water bottles and food stuffs)
Planning for Gerry’s 50th birthday, we decided to do that “thing” where you run your age. Eyeballing the running calendars high and low for a 50km run the weekend before or after his birthday, delivered nothing. So what does Gerry do? He signs us up for a 100km event instead, only double his age. What’s a few kilometres between friends? (Goodness knows how we’ll manage a 100 miler when he turns 80!).
After the 12-day challenge at the beginning of December our training took a turn for the worse. We had the greatest intentions, but it all went awry in the first week after clocking one of our biggest running weeks in a long time. Christmas rolled over and during the Lake Waikaremoana hike over new year, I picked up a cold which just wouldn’t go anywhere. It was not getting better, but also not worse, and in fact, only after we starting to run again in the second week of January, did it help to clear things out a bit.
They say ultras are primarily a mind-game, and having a “final long run”, is definitely part of it. For instance, with marathons I like to do a last long run of about 32km three weeks out from the event. With a 100km, I figured a 60km run seven weeks out should be good. It worked well the last time, so this is now the thing I like to do. Without this long-run, I would probably feel totally unprepared (not that I’ve ever really been prepared for any distance), even if I’ve done the hard yards (which I haven’t). But, this distance gives me the confidence that I can just add a marathon to that, and I’ll be good as. It is all in the mind, eh?
With a whole month of little to no training and still harbouring a wee cough, I was not in the least bit keen to attempt a 60km long-run, let alone fathom the idea of running in all in one go. Which brought to mind the idea to run one kilometre and walk one kilometre. That sounded infinitely easier, and the main idea was just to spent the time on our feet. It was all going to be fairly flat and easy kilometres anyway.
Part of the long-run, naturally, is also to test hydration and nutrition. Since our previous 100km event where we had an array of food stuffs that I thought worked well, I’ve developed a gluten allergy (no, I’m not cutting out donuts and pastries because I think it is fashionable, or more healthy, or I will lose weight. I miss all those things terribly. But gluten doesn’t work with my system – simple as that.) The pretzels and bagel crisps that I loved to much, cannot be on the menu anymore.
This meant I needed a new plan of action. And the best way to test and try it all out, is by taking a full day and test what works and what not. You would do well to have a degree in food science. A minefield that can blow your mind away. The theories out there range from a “less-is-more” approach, to scoffing down everything you can lay your hands on. You primarily need easy carbs, and not too much fat or protein. I know that we usually err on the less-is-more side of things, but I also know that I’ve been extremely tired and out of sorts on some of our last ultras. So obviously I needed to eat more.
Taking one’s own body weight into account, again the figures out there vary from 100cal/hour to 400cal/hour for someone of my size and weight. That is a huge discrepancy. I opted to try a 200cal/hour approach (over the span of 9 hours that would be 1800cal in total). For Gerry that would be 300cal/hour. Below are some of the food stuffs we considered and for this run it meant that per hour I needed to consume:
- 2-3 apples (400g) [100cal = 200g], or
- 1-2 bananas (250g) [100cal = 125g], or
- 1-2 packham pears (400g) [100cal = 200g], or
- 4 Frooze balls (potentially too much fat and protein, but I was keen to try it anyway) [100cal = 2g], or
- 70g dates (roughly 15) [100cal = 35g, 7-8 dates], or
- 60g jet planes (roughly 8) [100cal = 30g], or
- 225g boiled potatoes [100cal = 112g], or
- 9 corn thins [100cal = 4.5], or
- 2 gels [100cal = 1], or
- 50g marshmallows (roughly 25) [100cal = 25g], or
- 350ml Powerade [100cal = 175ml], or
- 3 sesame sweets (sesame, peanut, ginger, tapioca starch and sugar) (60g) [100cal = 30g]
It is very hard to track what you are eating (which is maybe why most people just opt to go the gel route), but looking at it afterwards I can now see how much I had and didn’t have. We also didn’t have the variety of stuff we were thinking of possibilities for a long run. In theory, getting your nutrition and hydration right means that you will not fatigue so easily – both body and mind. I did manage to eat much more than I’ve ever done before, and I did feel much better for it – mentally and physically. In fact, I would probably have been able to carry on for much longer if I had to.
In total, between the two of us, we (roughly) had 600g boiled potatoes (250g in my case), two sesame sweets (1 for me), 8 gels (3 for me), 200g jelly sweets (80g for me), 50g marshmallows (20g for me), 12 frooze balls (5 for me), and 2 dates (1 for me), over the span of eight and a half hours. In every instance, Gerry had about a third more than me. Adding it all up (including the Powerade), I consumed about 1400cal/9 hours (instead of the planned 1800cal). Meaning I averaged out at about 155cal/hour with absolutely no ill effects. So maybe this is my sweet spot? I would, however, like to still try and experiment more by consuming more calories to see what that does at some stage.
For hydration we totalled about 2.5 litres of electrolytes (that is 5 Nuun tablets), 750ml Powerade and 4 litres of water between the two of us. Gerry had a bit more. Roughly about 8 litres of fluids, including a sip here and there from a tap on the route. In my case, about 3.6 litres of fluid, boiling down to 400ml/hour. It was probably not nearly enough, but it seemed to have worked. Again, previously I would dehydrate and end up with a terrible headache, but this time that wasn’t so much of a problem, despite the heat (28 degrees C).
Getting down to it
When we woke up on Saturday morning, we reluctantly started putting stuff together for a long run. In the back of our minds, we still thought of maybe rather postponing to the Sunday, or another weekend. But when we did the sums and checked the weekends, we realised we were out of time. If it didn’t happen this weekend, it was not going to happen at all. And that scared the shit out of me. While we were having breakfast and getting sorted, we also got some potatoes on the boil. My absolute favourite for any endurance event.
After stopping in at the parkrun to catch up with a few friends, we were finally off at 9:15am, not entirely convinced of what was about to take place. Following the Bridle Track downstream, we decided to go explore the trails on the other side of town and basically circumnavigate Palmy. Not sure of the exact distance, I thought that would give us about 25km. A very nice off-road walkway goes all the way (clockwise) from the Fitzherbert Bridge to Milson line. From there it was unfortunately a bit of hit and miss on the pavement, zig-zagging through the industrial area, until we reached Napier Road. Shortly before that it started to rain. Or rather, is was pouring with rain! Pretty soon we were totally drenched head to toe. Running along Napier Road, I watched as the massive droplets were bouncing on the road making little fountains, and I fell happy to be amongst the dancing and splatter all around. We finally reached Te Matai Road that would take us back to the Bridle Track. By then we knew it would get us to about 30km, before we would be back at the car. After a few kilometres of getting soaked, the rain started to ease and we could dry out somewhat.
Back at the car, we decided to change some clothes and stock up for the second half. We changed into dry socks and shoes (from road shoes for the first half, to trail shoes for the second half), and Gerry also got a dry shirt. We ate most of the potatoes, a date and a sesame sweet, and some water, before heading off in the same direction for round number two, not sure if we want to just do the same loop again, or try and avoid the industrial on-road area. Finally we decided to do an out-and-back section on the trail, so turning around before we get to the road stretch. We weren’t far across Pioneer highway (about 8km in on the second lap) when the second round of rain came pouring down. This was even more intense than the first round and lasted for about 15 minutes. We had rain jackets and decided to put them to the test this time, as the wind also picked up and I was feeling a bit cold.
By the time we reached the main road on Rangitikei Street for the second time (where you have to make a big loop across and under the bridge to the other side), we were at the marathon mark. After high-fives, we turned around and ran back to the Fitzherbert Bridge, thinking we will just add the outstanding kilometres around the Esplanade or on some of our usual trails, instead of negotiating the industrial area on the roadside again. Back ‘home’ at Fitzherbert bridge (passing right by the car!), we only needed 4km and opted to do the duckies loop, one of our go-to trails. About halfway through we walked into our third shower for the day. By then it really didn’t matter anymore, as we were already sitting on two pairs of wet shoes (add to that another pair while out on the Nae Nae road track two days after).
We managed to keep up the run-one-walk-one schedule right to the end. And I can honestly say, it didn’t feel as if I have covered 60km. I felt less sore and much better than on my last marathon. Obviously, we were going at a significantly slower pace, but the mere fact that we used different muscles every other kilometre, made a huge difference.
The only challenge on a trail run would be to take into account that there will be hills. Some of which might not be runable. We still have to figure out how to exactly translate this onto a trail event, but the “run bits, walk bits, you’ll get there” still applies. Someone shared that encouragement at a 5-day stage race with us some ten years ago.
In the aftermath, I can feel that I’ve done a significant distance two days after, but I’m not totally buggered like one used to be after this length of event. I will go so far as to say that this was really “easy”. Planning out the next seven weeks, is going to be much harder. Still stressed about the prospect of the 100km event, but in a much better headspace.