Running has given me more in the past 3 months than in the 30 years previous.
I have been busy. Life is busy. Between selling a house, trying to buy a house, work, family and building NZTrailRun, time has raced by. One thing that has been constant though is running. I feel I am comfortable in my preparation for running the Queen Charlotte Track in a couple of weeks. I need to be. I’m in taper. It has been an interesting journey to get to this point. I’ve piled on the kms. Tried to get as much vert as possible and spent large amounts of time on my feet.
I’ve hurt. I am hurt. I’m glad I have made the mistakes I have as these will make me stronger when attempting to run 72km on the trot. But what mistakes are these you ask? Think of one and I have suffered through it… guaranteed.
Coming from what I would call an easy recreational running background, 7 or 8 km a few times a week, I didn’t need to eat. I would get up in the morning, wash the shit out of my eyes and hit the beach. I would be back before my tummy had time to grumble. So being used to this I set out for my first 30km long run without brekky. And forgot food. I realised about half an hour in. Felt good so kept going. Cue my first ever bonk.
It only took 22 km for the legs to go. By 26km life was coming to an end. The last km I would have strangled a horse for a bowl of Weetbix covered in sugar. It’s strange looking back on the last half an hour of the run and still vividly remembering the cravings for Weetbix and cold milk. Weird. So very weird. Something has never tasted sooo good as that bowl of cereal.
Since that fateful run I have experimented with all kinds of nutrition. Gels, muesli bars, protein bars, sandwiches, fruit, lollies, biscuits… you name it, I have eaten it running and with varying success. So what works for me? I have breakfast. Normally 2 pieces of toast with peanut butter and jam. I would like to have porridge or bacon butties (my brother in law swears by them) but I am normally late in the morning. I like sleep. A lot.
So with something in my stomach I generally won’t take any food with me if I am running under 2 hours. We do a couple of hill runs during the week in the Port Hills and I will sometimes take my handheld water bottle. But on Long Run Saturday I am now prepared.
I will have a drink bottle mixed with Tailwind. It tastes good, ensures that I am getting nutrition throughout the run, and doesn’t make me want to shit. I will take a shot bottle of Leppin lemon and lime gel. This holds three hits of Leppin and I find it less thick and sickly compared to GU and other gels. It is also favourable on my gut. And lastly I have 2 or 3 pikelets. My mate’s brother told me of the golden pikelets. He has run the Northburn 100 miler a couple of times and loves them. So do I. They are so much easier than trying to chew a sammy.
Obviously what works for me might not work for you. Take on board the advice of trial and error. My nutritional requirements, if you haven’t already guessed, focused on getting me running more and squatting in the bushes less. I have a temperamental stomach. I’m a meat and 3 veg kind of guy.
I’ve never really concentrated on getting the right gear before. If you’re running less than 10km nothing really has time to start rubbing. Shit did I learn quickly? It started with my feet. I have horrible feet. My wife tells me all the time, especially when playing footsies in bed. I know it and I’m kind of proud of it. Manly feet. Feet that were made for toil and ruin, they belong outdoors, muddy and sweaty. They will never adorn a magazine, unless it is a medical journal showing the effects of unfitted shoes causing heinous blisters.
Yes blisters where blisters shouldn’t be. It started with my New Balance Minimus. I love that shoe, big toe box for my wide feet, felt great, low drop. As soon as I would run over 15km I would get blisters between my toes, yes between them on the pad of my foot. Injinji toe socks helped that problem but I still would get hot spots and eventually blisters on the inside of my foot.
I bought a pair of Hoka One One Mafate Speed second hand on trademe. I had heard only good things about Hoka’s so I thought I would give them a try. I ran 3 long runs with the Mafate before I retired them and went back to the Minimus. Blisters on both small toes and still on the inside of my foot. Toe box obviously too small.
Next I thought I would upgrade to the Hoka Challenger as I had heard it had a good fit and wider sole. I must admit the comfort levels were fantastic with this shoe and I did enjoy running in them… up hills. Down hills were excruciating. My toes felt like they were being beaten with a stick every foot strike. Blisters on both small toes were rectified by cutting out the rubber sole surrounding that area. The little toes would splay out quite nicely. No matter how tight I laced up my big fat sausage toes were taking a hammering. The poor bastards are ugly enough but with black toe nails on both feet something had to be done.
So I made a booking with a podiatrist, and he was not cheap. Horribly expensive for the 20 minutes I was in there in fact. But it was the best money I have spent on gear yet. I have high arches, poor joint movement in my big toe (broken too many times) and a wide toe span. A pair of orthotics later and I was off the Frontrunner Colombo in Christchurch to see my friend JC.
I unfortunately had to show him my symptoms, black toe nails and all, and carried the message from the doc… wide toe box with a flexi sole. Out came my saviour, my rescuer, my liberator. The Altra Lone Peak 3.0. Coupled with a 4mm innersole addition (as I felt I couldn’t go straight to a zero drop shoe) I was off. The toe box was so wide that even my hoof of a foot had room to wiggle.
I was fizzing to go running in my newly customised footwear! But knowing I should probably take it slow to run them in and also needing to get used to the orthotics I went for a slow 5km. Bugger that I ran up a mountain. Mt Fyffe in Kaikoura was the best run I had ever had the pleasure to endure. It was sunny and snowy at the same time and was also the first mountain I had summit over 1500m. And then from the top I was able to push down the mountain like a spring legged mountain goat and damn my feet felt good.
At that point was the first time I had actually realised I could run an Ultra. It took time and patience in trying to find the right product, but once there, it is such a relief. I have also upgraded my Warehouse hydration pack to a Salomon running vest purely to be able to accommodate packing more gear. I recently ran up Mt Dunblane and Mt Isobel in Hanmer but couldn’t summit either due to lack of cold weather gear. When running in areas with such varying climatic conditions I have realised how important it is to have warm gear to throw on.
The places I have run over the past couple of months has opened my eyes to the epicness of our backyard. Before deciding to give this long running game a go I would have never thought about running up mountain ranges. I would have sat in the hot-pools shrivelling up like an old timer. I still do that but now it feels so much better.
I have seen countless sunrises in my life but sitting on top of a rocky outcrop, looking down on the clouds when the sun peered over the horizon is an image that will never leave me. The ultra-marathon is the destination but the journey there has been amazing. I’m excited about my future adventures. I was recently talking to Tim Sutton (epic blog a couple of weeks ago about his solo mission through Tararua Range) and he was talking about his change in perception. It is now nothing for him to go for a 10 hour adventure like some people do a 10km run. I am now starting to realise this way of thinking… the ensuing opportunities are intoxicating.