10 things I learnt from running my first ultra

I thought of doing the usual race recap from last Saturday’s Upstream 50k Challenge but this particular day was so life-changing that I really feel it is more important to share what I’ve learnt than to tell you what the weather was like at the 40k mark or how my legs turned to jelly 200mt before the finish line. Suffice to say – I did it!

It was even more amazing than I thought it would be, and I want to do it again as soon as my body will let me!

10 things I learnt from running my first ultra

1. You have to commit 100% : This would be the one major difference between last Saturday’s race and all the others I’ve done. There was absolutely no way I was not going to finish this race. No matter what. Once you accept that, everything else gets a lot easier.
I’ve spoken about it before but it bears repeating: don’t waste mental energy reconsidering things you have already decided to do.

imag0417_1Absolutely freezing start – but great weather for running

imag0422Upstream is a small race and therefore it had a lovely ‘family’ type atmosphere that really calmed my nerves

2. Making your training as hard as possible makes your race easier: I never once skipped a run because it was dark, or cold, or raining, or because I didn’t feel like it. I did skip runs, but the reasons were aimed at making sure I completed training, such as it was too windy and trees were falling down (if a tree falls on me I can’t run my race, right?) or I had a bad niggle that needed rest (such as when I got back from skiing and realised I had slightly strained my left calf – that was 2 skipped runs right there). Otherwise, embrace the suck. It will only help you finish that much stronger.

 One last bit of flooding under the Swan Street bridge reminded everyone that yes, this was Melbourne

3. Plan your recovery as well as your training: This time I made sure I ate immediately afterwards (a whopping quinoa and black-bean veggie burger that was soooo good!) and re-hydrated with a Gatorade. It took me over half an hour to eat it all, but I did. Then I got into a huge Epsom salts bath. Then I had a nap. The next day I walked for 30 mins and – thanks to my wonderfully generous sister – had a massage (if you can afford it, this would be my top recovery tip) and ate regularly through both days.
Result? I was walking normally by Tuesday, all stiffness gone by Wednesday. I was quite amazed at the difference it made.

4. You will be dumb as a post for the week following: My god I felt slow in the head on Sunday and Monday. It was as though every last drop of glucose had been siphoned out of my brain. The results of my attempts at thinking couldn’t have been worse had I drunk a bottle of wine before sitting down to work!
If you have to work and/or think in any capacity after a race like this, plan to eat very regularly (lots of little snacks to keep your strength up) and make sure you double check every piece of paper that crosses your desk.

5. It might not hurt as much as you think it will: Huge sections of this run were a revelation to me; I was really able to enjoy myself. As in pure, can’t-wipe-the-smile-off-my-face joy. Chunks of time where I was completely in a flow state, enjoying my surroundings, feeling no pain, appreciating the wonderful views of the Yarra River or Westerfold’s Park, while the k’s ticked off without any effort from me. I particularly remember this feeling from the 30-40k mark.

fb_img_1478561564965I felt really good at the 20k mark – for instance I still had plenty of energy left to terrorise my nephew by trying to wipe my sweat on him

6. But at some points it will hurt : A lot. So embrace it.
I don’t mean welcome it, or love it, just accept that it will happen and that you can survive it.
I had zero issues up to the 20k mark. I was full of beans when I met up with my sister and our kids, I had dropped a guy who had been trying to hang with me since the 5k mark (always a great feeling if you can ‘chick’ a bloke, right?) and I was enjoying my brand new Triple J like a Version #12 album. Then I hit 25k and all of a sudden I couldn’t continue my 10 min run, 1 min walk race plan. My body wasn’t having any of it and my speed dropped to only slightly faster than my walking pace.
I switched to my next tactic: run for 1 kilometre then walk for 200 metres. That I could manage. I tried not to panic but I still had 25k to go. I knew I could run far longer than this, I’d done two 32k training runs and they’d been easy. So what the hell was going on? After a couple of k’s of thinking, swearing and stubbornly insisting that my body keep going, I finally thought to tote up my calories ingested and figured it out. I hadn’t eaten enough. I’d had a mini-bonk. I popped a gel and by the 29k mark I was powering along again.

7. Let others help you: It’s beyond me why people who have very little interest in running for 6 hours want to come out on their weekends and cheer me on, ferry my stinky carcass home and pace me for the last 10k when I could barely talk, but they did. I am very lucky to have awesome family and friends who met me on course (three times), brought me drinks and food, encouraged and distracted me when I was hurting and gave me a very good excuse not to give up even when I really wanted to (see previous point).

img_20161105_121646Met up with brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews and puppers at the 40k mark (as you can see I still had enough energy left to boss everyone else around)

8. Have backups of everything : Socks, bandaids, Bodyglide. More gels than you’ll need and a big range of food. Leave the bulk of it with your crew and let them know when you want it.
Practice using these backups and alternate options in training so when you are trying to figure out why you’re bonking at 25k or cramping at 40k you know exactly what to do about it. Even if it does take your tired brain a few k’s to figure it out.
If you’re a minimalist then fine, you won’t want to deal with all this, but for me having all this extra support available meant I didn’t once worry about having what I needed when I needed it.

fb_img_1478332355123Taking a tiny rest break right after the finish line (okay, I couldn’t actually move)

9. It’s a good thing to tell people what you’ve done: I held back, thinking it would be bragging to talk too much about what I had achieved, but people genuinely wanted to know, and told me how it was inspiring them to do stuff they’d been putting off, or thought would be too hard. Apparently doing stupid shit like running for 50k is something people find inspiring even when they’re not a runner themselves.
So tell your friends, brag a bit. You never know who is watching or listening and gaining strength from your success. (Just remember to shut up about it sooner rather than later or your audience will probably turn on you!).

fb_img_1478561523694Stayed here for about 45 minutes, comfiest wooden bench ever!

10. You will feel like you can do anything afterwards: Well, when you cross that finish line and collapse, you’ll probably not be feeling much at all, except relief. But later, as everything clears and the sheer joy of just not running anymore fades, you’ll start to feel like Superman. You’ll start to wonder what else you thought was too hard to do. And suddenly everything, from trying for a new job, to risking your innermost feelings with a new partner, seems both more possible and less scary. It’s proof you can cope with so much more than you thought you could. It’s an amazing feeling and I wish more people could experience it, I think the world would be a much better place.
To be clear – I’m not talking about arrogance here. I’m not wandering around looking down my nose at all those poor clods who don’t run. I just sense an immense possibility that wasn’t there before. It’s the best high I’ve ever felt and I wish everyone else around me could feel it too.


Placing second individual female didn’t hurt either!

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