NavWorld Ambassador Naomi Brand knows a thing or two about ultra distance trail running, as her impressive race record attests. In fact, over the past long weekend she left the opposition eating dust again – becoming the first woman home in the inaugural Karkloof 100 Miler in a time of just 18 hours 19 minutes. And, as she crossed the line in third place overall, she beat nearly all the men too. Here are her top five tips on how to make it to the finish line when competing in your first 100 miler.
The last thing I want to do is run on roads. I prefer the freedom of running long trails through wild country, feeling one with nature and pushing myself to be the best athlete I can possibly be. It’s also when I feel most alive. You might think running 100 miles in one go – that’s160 km, or two Comrades Marathons back to back – is impossible for you to do, but it’s not. If you already enjoy running, want to fully immerse yourself in nature and are up for a serious personal challenge, then tackling an ultra distance trail run is well within your reach. Just make sure you give yourself enough time to prepare. Go on long training runs that include plenty of climbs and descents, do your homework, learn to enjoy hill repeats, and in no time you’ll be ready.
Not that finishing a 100 miler is easy. It requires mental strength, a self-reliant attitude, a serious commitment to training and bucket-loads of stamina. But the benefits of pushing through are well worth it. The highs, lows and hardcore challenges ultra distance trail running throws at one are too varied to count. Persevering through the bad patches helps you develop a mental toughness that pays serious dividends in the real world. You’ll also find your coping skills improve, making your life go much smoother in general. That said, here are my top five tips on how to make it to the finish line on your first 100 miler.
1. Condition your body
For obvious reasons, a 100 miler is not the kind of race where you decide to undertake a day or two before the start. You need to carefully prepare your muscles and joints for running non-stop for anything between 16 and 36 hours, as well as prepare your mind to carry you all that way. Getting used to the hydration pack you plan to use on race-day is a really good idea. It also helps to test out different nutrition products so that you know what will best do the job on the day of the event.
Using the weekends for long runs (typically between 50 – 60 km at a time, or 30 – 40 km over two consecutive days) for a couple of months beforehand is recommended. That said, everyone’s bodies are different, and the amount and intensity of training depends on your own body and goals. The better you prepare, the greater the chance of making it to the finish line, and walking away. You may be stiff and sore, but you’ll finish injury-free.
2. Small sips from the start
One of the best tips I ever received from a fellow ultra distance runner is to properly hydrate my body before and during a race. All athletes know how important it is to drink water during a race, but the trick here is to start drinking water even before your body tells you that you need to – that is, even before you start to feel thirsty. This way your body is kept in a sufficiently hydrated and more balanced state from the start, and everything in the body functions better when it’s at equilibrium! Conversely, if you only start drinking water when you become extremely thirsty it’s almost “too late”, as you’re already in a dehydrated state. Hydration levels become more difficult to manage and maintain at this stage as consuming a high amount of water causes discomfort, or may even upset your digestive system.
The hydration packs that all long distance trail runners wear during races nowadays makes it so easy to keep your body’s moisture levels in balance – you have easy access to water and can take small sips every few kilometres from the start, as opposed to only having access to water at aid stations. Drinking enough water the day before a race also helps as it “fills up your stores” so you start with a full tank.
3. Keep moving
Don’t waste too much time at aid stations or check points. This is especially so at night when temperatures are low. Your soaking wet body easily gets cold and stiff once you stop moving. North of 100km your legs only feel good as long as you keep them moving, regardless of the pace. Try and decide before you reach the aid station what you need to get, consume or change so you can focus on just that and move through more quickly Eat and drink what you can while already walking away from the station and – regardless of how tempting the chairs at the aid stations look – try not to sit down or stand dead still while you fill up.
4. Purposefully pace yourself
Run your own race and try to maintain a pace that’s comfortable for you from the start – one that you’ll be able to maintain for as long as possible, regardless of what everyone around you is doing. That said, don’t start too conservatively. You obviously don’t want to run a PB 10km time somewhere in the beginning. But you’re going to be tired as hell in the end in any case; and holding back too much in the beginning could also tire out your legs and add a few hours to your intended finishing time. Capitalise on the flat, runnable parts as much as you can, especially in the first half of the race – and RUN when you can.
If possible, buddy-up during the race with someone that runs more or less at your pace – it’s safer (especially at night time) and boosts the morale. Greet and motivate other runners as you pass them or they pass you, if you have the breath. Get some of your friends or family to come and support you at aid stations and the finish, or tell your friends and family so they can follow you when you’re out there. Most of us take on these challenges for ourselves – we do it to achieve a goal, to win a prize, to overcome a fear. But more often than not those reasons are not what you cling onto while you are alone, tired and suffering. You think of those people out there with you on the trail, along with the loved ones supporting you and cheering you on – and you pull through for them. So always make people part of your journey, it will carry you through in the hard times! – (c) 2017 NavWorld
Note: Naomi wasn’t the only winner at the inaugural Karkloof 100 Miler. Her fellow NavWorld Ambassador, Bennie Roux, took the men’s class too, crossing the line in a time of 18 hours 11 minutes – just 8 minutes ahead of Naomi! If you want to find out how their runs went, pick up some good ultra distance trail running insights, and get their impressions on this exciting new KZN event on the race calendar, you can listen to their podcast here.