Last week we brought you the first part of our North Face 100/50 runner’s survey, which looked at more of the training and mental preparation you guys did. This week in the final part of the series we’re looking at some more of the aesthetics of your race, namely choice of backpack, footwear, nutrition and whether you felt you set a realistic time goal or not. Finally, the all important question, was the course harder this year with the changes made?
Once again we’ve got our expert to help guide us through the results in the form of Andy DuBois from Mile27, he along with myself will interpret and pass comment on what you’ve said, but more importantly help and offer some advice for those embarking on the journey for your next ultra.
All the gear and no idea?
First of all, we’ll focus on the gear side of things, namely the three most important things you need when you’re embarking on an ultra such as TNF100, namely shoes, backpack and nutrition. The good news is that as far as backpacks and shoes are concerned, the overwhelmingly majority of you have got this right. Eighty-four per cent of you agreed that your choice of backpack was good, while 83 per cent of you said the same of your shoes.
This is good to hear as there was a time when I would have expected those results to have been quite different, particularly the shoes. The types of shoes and indeed the wealth of reviews and advice now on offer means that it seems for the most part, most of you are now well-versed in what to look for and are seriously considering what shoes are needed for a race such as this. But of course, race conditions vary from place to place, state to state, so it always pays to consider the type of terrain you’re racing on when you’re considering what shoes to wear.
Andy DuBois comments, “Although many people find and stick with a pair of shoes that works for them, next time you buy shoes try several different brands on, not just your favourites and see if there is a shoe better suited to you. You feet adapt and change too as you run more and more, so it pays to see what’s out there.”
I tend to agree with Andy on this one and will tend to swap between a few different brands over the course of a 12-18 month period, depending upon the type of racing I’m doing. There are many things to consider with shoes, but try before you buy is the golden rule here and remember that your feet are completely unique. Here are a few things you might want to think about before your next race:
- Heel to toe drop is important because it can have a big effect on the way in which you run and ultimately staying injury free. Heel to toe drop is the difference in height of the heel stack to the toe stack – sounds pretty straight forward? Well it is really… If the heel stack is 20mm and the toe stack is 12mm, then the heel to toe drop is 8mm. It’s important because ultimately it’s about what your body/achilles is used to. The shorter the drop, the more your achilles has to travel, which if you’re not sued to it can cause you problems. Think about it all before you buy.
- The ‘comfort’ of your shoe is important, whether you’re racing a 10km bush thrash or 240kms through the forest. For the shorter races, you can get away with less protection underfoot simply because you’re not out in the bush all that long for the feet to hurt – but protruding rocks will always be an issue! The more you’re out there, the more your feet will start to ache, which is all about how much cushioning you want. Some people prefer less cushioning because they like to feel ‘connected’ to the trail. Others couldn’t careless about that and just want a ‘buffet-car’ experience with their shoes, however this could affect the levels of stability in the shoe.
- The outsole is the tread on the bottom of your shoe. Why does this matter? Well, the type of outsole on your shoe will be important depending upon the type of terrain you run on. If you’re choosing a highly technical race with plenty of loose rocks and rugged terrain, you’ll want something that can grip, which is why we tend to see many shoes feature ‘lugs’ on the bottom to aid with this. If you’re running on pretty ‘flat’ fire trail with firm footing, you can get away with something that almost resembles the bottom of a road shoe.
- Finally the shape of the shoe is also very important – which again comes down to the size and shape of your own feet. If you have wide feet, there’s very little point in trying to squeeze them into shoes that are known for being on the narrow side. Certain styles of Inov8s, New Balance and indeed Salomon shoes can be narrow. Altras for example are shaped like an actual foot, with a wide toe-box to allow for movement within the shoe.
Backpacks these days have come a long way. Not only are they better fitting and more suite to our body shapes, but the manufacturers are using feedback from their runners to further enhance and design these things better. Having raced at Australia’s TNF100 four times, it’s amazing to see just how big some of the backpacks are when most people could fit their gear into something half the size. My theory is that the bigger your bag, the more you’re going to fill it. If you want to race fast, then minimal is the name of the game, all while balancing that with staying safe on the trails and making sure you’ve got the proper mandatory gear to help you should an issue occur.
Nutrition was a slightly different story with xx% saying that you got it right. While it can be a tricky thing to get right, the sage advice is to not go into race day unaware of what food and hydration you need to keep you going and performing at the level you expect. Nutrition is such a personal thing. For some taking it in fluid format is the best option, while others prefer solids. Whatever you end up doing, make sure it is tried and tested a thousand times before race day so that you know exactly what you like/want and when/how often you need it during the race. Factor in the weather too – sometimes our taste buds and stomachs respond differently in varying conditions.
As far as setting a realistic time goal was concerned, again the good news is that most of you felt as though you did (45 per cent), with 18 per cent of you being extremely modest about you prospects and coming in under your predicted time. A quarter of you though set goals that were perhaps unrealistic, and that for the most part can come down to preparation, but also being honest with yourself too.
Andy adds, “The goals we set ourselves should follow the S.M.A.R.T principle . Specific, measurable, achievable , realistic and have a time frame.
“But, when setting yourself goals, allow yourself to dream a bit. Play out the “what if I could achieve anything I set my mind to ” scenario in your head. Let your imagination run wild and see where it takes you. If you find something that really inspires you then investigate it further and see what you would need to do to make it a reality. Once you understand the sacrifices, risks and time commitment necessary you can then determine if it is still a goal you want to pursue.”
The truth is, there’s nothing wrong with being a little unrealistic, if we weren’t we’d never get anywhere in life. We’d live within the boundaries of our own perceived limitations. Dream a little and if you don’t achieve what you set out to do, who cares! On a personal level, I always set myself goals that I know are probably slightly above what I can achieve. But there will be the odd occasion that you’ll surprise yourself.
Harder or easier?
Finally, we asked whether you thought the course was harder of easier than in previous years, due to the back half of the course being essentially run in reverse. Now while this meant a lovely downhill into the Jamieson Valley along Kedumba Pass, it also meant a rather lovely 1,000m climb in the final 15kms or so back up to scenic world and the finish area. In our race preview, we thought that the new course would be around 15-20mins slower, and it appeared we got that right 🙂 We were also right about Stu Gibson winning and Andrew Tuckey being one of the fastest back half runners in Australia… but heck what do we know 🙂 Nothing… we’re just a bunch of ultra-running hacks 🙂
The great news about our survey is that we had over half of you saying that you ran TNF for the first time, if that’s you, welcome to our world and to Australian ultra running we’re blessed to have you on board. For the remainder of you, a third said that it was harder, with 12 per cent saying it felt the same. Just 2 per cent said it wasn’t harder.
Our take is that while there is an obvious perception that the course is harder right now, in two-three years time we’ll see Brendan’s record go for the old course. Running and our perception of what is harder is all relative to our experience and ability. People and standards naturally get quicker/better. We learn how to deal with and approach things better with time, we adapt and evolve, which is how you as runner’s will too over time. Which is why we feel that information such as this is best provided for free, so that ultimately standards in Australian ultra running will grow and better over time.
We hope that you enjoyed our mini series of articles on the North Face 100/50. All the best for your next ultra and if you have any questions at all, you’re more than welcome to drop us a note, we’re always happy to help. Email firstname.lastname@example.org