An ultramarathon is technically described as any event longer than a marathon, so longer than 42.2km (although many consider 50km to be the starting point for an ultra). That’s a long way. A very long way. But like any journey, it all starts with the first step out the door. Quite literally.
My journey to ultramarathons started with a 2km walk from my house to my local beach. By the time I got there, my calves were sore. Only after 2km and already having sore calves…..pretty tragic eh? But hey, things can only improve from here I thought! So, more walking, puffing up some hills, walking in my lunchtimes, walking the dog,
walking in the rain, using the Wellington headwinds as “resistance training”,
finding my local park-run (and walking it), walking in the evenings, walking with
friends, walking alone, even walking Wellington Round the Bays half marathon
(eventually). Slowly the kms built up, the feet and legs got used to the demands I
was putting on them, the lungs got stronger, and the body felt fitter.
By the time my first attempt at 50km, the 2017 Oxfam Trailwalk Challenge, rolled around I was as ready as I could be. I still suffered that day – tired legs, sore feet, blisters and chaffing. But I did it. I got to that finish line and felt supremely proud when they handed me my 50km medal – proud of myself and my team members who had just tackled and succeeded at a goal none of us had ever really thought possible.
I carried on to take on my first solo ultra in November 2017 – the Tarawera 50km – and had so much fun I realised this was something I really wanted to keep doing. But to get through the cut-offs for longer events, I needed to be running at least some of the time. So it seemed like getting some run coaching might actually be a good idea – to get the right advice so that I could transition from walking to running in a way that both kept me injury-free and enjoying the process.
I chose to go with the amazing coaches Kerry Suter and Ali Pottinger at Squadrun
because I liked the flexibility and event-specificity of their programmes, the fact
that they coach ordinary people like me as well as elites, and I knew they already
had a strong community of ultra-runners who I could also tap into for motivation, advice and general encouragement. My training programme now has a weekly schedule of seven sessions, ranked in priority from P1-P7. These sessions are a mix of:
- Rhythm runs (where you aim to maintain a prescribed pace for – in my case – 15-20km)
- Speed work (fartleks, reps, stride-outs)
- Hill work
- Runs on technical trail and at night (to simulate event conditions)
- Strength sessions (essential to remaining injury-free as well as improving your running)
- Long back-to-back runs (designed to mimic race day fatigue – getting used to pushing on with tired legs)
- ‘Hard hike’ days (which are about time on feet and great for testing gear and nutrition/hydration strategies).
The runs in my programme are tailored for the distance and terrain of whatever is my next focal event and have an intensity or volume that’s specific for me so that it keeps me challenged and making incremental improvements. Having a mix of runs in a week means I can schedule them in any order that fits with my life – how much time I have and where I can get to in terms of the terrain needed for each run type. I try and get at least P1-P4 done each week, but do something active each day even if it’s only getting a walk in up a hill with the dog. Because while being active has now become a habit rather than a chore, it doesn’t always need to be (nor should it be) about lots of kms and lots of hard running! A mix makes it more enjoyable, more sustainable, and more productive.