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’.
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.
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.
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.
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.