Big Race Strategy – The Four F’s

As the weather heats up and we’re slap bang in the middle of the season of the long stuff here in Australia, 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 this weekend at what most regard as one of Australia’s toughest hundred milers, the Great North walk 100s.

Every runner has different goals, objectives and above all strategies to approach the race. In this article, we aim to just give you some things to think about with just a few days to go until the big dance at Teralba on Saturday. 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.

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 one year. Andy is the only person in Australia to have competed in and completed every single GNW race that’s taken place. So he kind of knows a thing or two about this race and it’s his wise words that are the basis of this article.

The Four ‘Fs’

The four ‘Fs’ stand for: Fluid, Feet, Fitness and Food. We kind of think fitness is a given for a race such as this, 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. It’s also easy to be quite blase when 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 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’.

Fluid

This stuff makes or breaks your race
This stuff makes or breaks your race

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 fend up in 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.

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.

Keep an eye on these things - bad feet can end your race
Keep an eye on these things – bad feet can end your race

Make sure you chose the right shoe too. 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, there’s nothing 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

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.

What food will you be eating in your race?
What food will you be eating in your race?

The important thing is to experiment in training and know what you need to do to overcome these issues that crop up along the way.

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.

Just enjoy it...
Just enjoy it…

A trick I’ve often used in a race when things are getting tough is to simply stop and try to change the status quo. Running long distances requires mental stamina far beyond what we’re used to in our day to day lives. It requires immense focus and at times it can be hard to disassociate yourself from what’s happening when things go bad. The important thing is to work out what you need to do to get you back on track. Pause, sit down, take a moment to think and refresh the brain. A few minutes here, could save your race further on down the track.

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. Have a great race this weekend if you’re competing and enjoy the ride.

Dan on Twitter
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.

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