GNW Strategy – The Four Fs

With just over two weeks to go until Australia’s biggest, baddest and toughest 100 miler gets underway, we thought we’d pen a few words here at Ultra168 to run through a bit of a strategy / mental checklist for all those runners out there who will be lining up at Teralba at 6am, Saturday November 12th. It’s fair to say that this is the race that gets all of Ultra168 the most excited, and for a number of reasons.

We’re four runners, each with four different goals, objectives and above all strategies to approach the race. As part of our lead up to GNW Marcus has posted videos and advice from some of the greats of US trail running, following his trip to Western States with Andrew. The knowledge that these guys impart is priceless, so if you’re venturing into the 100 mile game and indeed, GNW for the first time it really pays to listen to what these veterans say.

In this article, we aim to just give you some things to think about with just a few weeks to go. The big training has been done and we now move into the fine tuning and tweaking. This is not the gospel and we know and appreciate that everyone is different, but what we aim to do is give people some food for thought. If you’re a veteran, we’d also love your thoughts and opinions. There are some Aussie runners out there with a heap of experience and many of them read this site, so your thoughts are gratefully received too.

Putting the kilometres in for a race like this is a given, but it can often be the small things that make or break how successful your race will be on the day. I am reminded of a saying that Andy Hewat used at the GOW100km briefing this year, so will shamelessly borrow that for the basis of this article. Our advice is to also speak to those who’ve been there and done it too, we just aim to give you a little push along the way.

The Four ‘Fs’

The four ‘Fs’ stand for: Fluid, Feet, Fitness and Food. We’ve covered fitness above, and only you as the runner will know if you’ve put the graft in to get you through the day. We’ve heard many a person say that you can’t fluke a 100 miler, and we think this rings so true. We think one can also be quite blase about comparing 100km to 100 miles. “It’s only another 60kms” they say… but that’s another 60% total race distance. That’s a lot, and we think there’s a huge difference between racing 100kms and racing 100 miles. Most of us don’t actually race 100 miles, 85% of the GNW field who finish we merely be ‘completing’ rather than ‘competing’.

This stuff makes or breaks your race

Fluid

We’d say that given the conditions GNW is typically run in, fluid is perhaps the most important one of all, and probably accounts for the massive attrition rate that we see in this race each year. For some reason NSW stays relatively cool, right up until the first week of November and then ‘BANG!’, someone switches on the oven in the Congewai valley. If the earth had an oven, it would be in Congewai as for some reason, all the heat and humidity that Australia can find seems to find its way to this valley around midday on the second weekend of November. The humidity is the killer here, and invariably, as people leave the safety of checkpoint one there’s a moment of madness in their thinking.

From CP1 to CP2 is a mere 22kms, and it’s pretty flat at that. Our brains turn to mush and we think we only need a litre or two of water, but as we make our way through the high ridges of the lower Hunter Valley, the man upstairs turn up the temperature knob and our clothing resembles something that’s just been on a heavy-duty wash in the machine such is the amount of sweat it’s carrying. Never underestimate the amount of water you may need for each section – our advice is to carry at least 3 litres with you from every checkpoint. Sometimes more and drink it. But don’t go too far the other way and drink too much, this can be equally as bad. Set yourself a timer on your watch and drink regularly and in sensible amounts.

To tape or not to tape?

Feet

As an ultra runner, you’re probably well equipped at looking after your feet. So it kind of goes without saying that if you get a blister, or indeed even a hotspot, sort it out there and then. Don’t wait until the checkpoint. It’s too late by then, and what was a small little red patch, could turn into a nasty puss-filled lump on the bottom of your foot. Not only will that slow you down, but it could end-up taking you out of the race. In a race such as GNW, where you feet will be wet with sweat, make sure you have some simple blister treatment with you in your pack to deal with these things out on the course. A bit of tape will suffice, if only to wrap the offending blister for an hour or two to get you to a checkpoint.

Make sure you chose the right shoe too. You’ve probably read about my shoe discussion and what I’m thinking of wearing on race day, but the simple fact is that kilometres have been put into both shoes. It’s not like I’m heading into the dark and taking a gamble with a brand new pair of shoes that I don’t know. Go with whatever feels the most comfortable and something you know you can have on your feet for 30+ hours. People often ask about shoe changes in races too, and whether that’s a good thing. Personally, we don’t see anything wrong with it, but do it for a reason. If your feet feel good, then don’t change, you could manufacture a problem.  But if they don’t feel right then consider a change, if only from a psychological point of view, it could do wonders. I swapped into a dry pair of Nike Frees at the Northburn 100 miler after 110kms and it made me feel good.

What food will you take?

Food

Another very important aspect of racing for many hours non-stop. Too little and you’re in trouble from not having enough energy. Too much and you risk what most ultra runners dread, the upset stomach. This can be a really hard one to get right as everyone is different. But the key is to make sure you’ve experimented and you know what you need. As a general rule (and this is general, not for everyone), depending on your size and build, most runners take in around 250-350 calories an hour, but also look at the breakdown of what you’re taking in too and the percentage of carbs you need.

There’s many a debate too about whether to have solids, or whether to take in liquid food as such. Admittedly, here at Ulta168 we certainly advocate the latter and use liquids as our primary food source – the main reason being is that liquids are far easier to digest than solid food. However there’s no harm in solid food at all, and we all use that too as part of our racing strategies. I recently ran the GOW100km pretty much entirely on liquids and gels (bar half a boiled potato!), and did this as an experiment to see what it’s like to go for 100kms and 13 hours on liquids alone. It generally worked fine (bar a slightly upset stomach), but I did miss the feeling of having some solid in the belly after 10 hours or so.

What if you get stomach issues? Well again each situation is different, but in the recent GOW100km I got some belly issues around 60kms. What I did was to back off on all gels and liquid foods for 30 minutes and take small sips of water. That seemed to do the trick for me, and within the hour I was feeling good again. However it might not work for everyone, the key is to experiment in training and know what you need to do to overcome these issues that crop up along the way.

Just enjoy it... man

The last ‘F’ – FUN

Although Fitness is one of the ‘Fs’, we take that as a given. More importantly on the day is to have fun. Remember, you’re doing this for a reason and if you aren’t enjoying it then what’s the point? Of course, we all have moments in an ultra when we ask ourselves why the hell are we doing this, and that once we’ve done it we’re never going to race it ever again. 90kms into GOW the other week, I asked myself that very question. So I stopped briefly, look at where I was running saw the stunning ocean and trail before me, thought of a few personal things and then off I went.

Personally, I know all too well of the demons that come and visit you and a few times I’ve let them get the better of me in races gone by – I hope now that they’re gone, but they could come back. But the way I see it is this. There’s a huge, most amazing prize at the end of the race and in the middle of it, sometimes you have to wade through a whole heap of sh*t just to get there. That sh*t is not very nice sometimes, but its a tiny sacrifice compared to the prize at the end.

As we’ve said this is not the gospel by any means and to some of the veterans we’re sure it’s old hat, or you may have opinions to the contrary. What we aim to do is give the first-timer or indeed the second and third timers, some thoughts and guides that may help along the way. GNW has a 40% completion rate for a reason, let’s try to get that number up a little.

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Dan
I'm a mediocre runner who can bat above his average when I train hard. A man of extremes, I do enjoy everything life offers and consider it an absolute pleasure just to be able to put one foot in front of the other and let my mind wander somewhere different.

14 thoughts on “GNW Strategy – The Four Fs

    1. Not silly at all. It was my first one and it was tough but worth it. If you can run 100km (which you obviously can) then it shouldn’t be a problem so long as you’re focused and motivated to achieving your goals.

  1. Not at all Tay. Plenty of people have done GNW as their first 100 miler, it’s all about preparation at the end of the day. I’d say go for your life! Marcus of Ultra168 here is doing this as his first 100 miler. I know that Meredith Quinlan did this as her first 100 miler. So has Andrew Vize.

  2. Dan

    Nice reminder of the essentails that need to be kept in mind at all times. I couldn’t gree more about the section into CP2. Was in in 2007 that most of the filed didn’t get out of the school – if they made it. On that day tthe God’s were with me as I cruised into the school and out with no problems. It was on;ly when I got to the Basin that I was told that I was almost the last one who made it out of the school.

  3. I have a question Andrew – when will we see your WS race report? 🙂

    Great article – I think it sums up the basics very well. Another really important aspect is mental I think. In GNW there are a thousand places you can give up and a thousand excuses that will make it seem OK to DNF. You need to be really focused and determined to get to Patonga – even if that involves walking for 6 and a half hrs in the balzing sun on day 2.

    GNW was my first 100 miles too – love it, keep coming back for more.

  4. In regards to feet, I think that many neglect the training aspect of this variable.
    If you walk around barefoot enough (for the 9-5ers maybe just a stroll at lunchtime?) this ceases to be an issue. Obviously, I haven’t run 100 miles before, but haven’t ever had a blister over quite a few shorter ultras. Also raced Flinders’ sockless and had no issues. Although it may seem like alot of trouble to work barefoot walking into your training, if it entirely eliminates one thing to think about on race day; one thing that frequently causes DNFs; then it’s worth it IMHO.
    Cheers (apologies if that came accross as self-righteous, wasn’t meant to be).
    Zac.

    1. Great post Dan,firstly you have trained hard and deserve to run well.

      IMO,I think most people are competing If you line up to do the 100 miler on the GNW I think 85% will be out there laying it on the line.Doesn’t matter what time you finish with . if you finish you will most likely be in the top 50 % (not bad).You can’t say a person isn’t competing if they do 103.7 km’s in 20 hours .My first 100 km was the GNW and finished in 19 hours plus now I think what a pussy but then I was that hammered I was afraid I would live and have to endure the pain.

      But this is the hardest and best 100 miler in OZ…I wish everyone good luck .

      Don’t be a pussy and don’t be scared to leave it all out there as it is a long 365 days to get revenge.As SPUD would say ” Giddy up”

  5. Great words of advise. Cannot agree more. I also think that a 5th topic should be “trail” as this a trail ultra and you need confidence in knowing where to go. Nothing worse than being strong and then running off course and trying to claw your way back to some reality. Many have come adrift of the course and been hammered knowing they have just run an additional few kms or more.

    I also see the real value on knowing the course. Psychologically I have an advantage over the beast as it will not beat me in navigation. And I know what to expect, where the next turn is and how big that next hill is.

    Great article. Keep it up. I agree mental is also everything.

    But Fun. Is the key. I enjoy all my runs on this course, except that section CP1 to Barraba.

    Bring it on

    1. Yes navigation isa real issue if you are not alert. The trail is marked okay you just need to keep a look out and engage the brain. I have a good memory for the course and rarely have to look at the map or directions but it has been 2 years since I have gone past the basin so I will need to be alert. I also spend a lot of time before the race just reading over the maps.

  6. all good points but just one more from me. I am the sweep on the last leg and I don’t want to see any of you until the finish .
    so point 5 Finish under the cutoff

  7. Another “F” is for all the Fears we exchange for freedom when we enter this race.
    And for me, “F” is for Fruit…sweet and juicy!

    Don’t be sweeping near me, Martin!
    If you do, then you’ve been going too fast! 🙂

    Grant (Raw Aussie Athlete)

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